national champs baby
Jordan Walsh, out of Glen Ellyn, Illinois, is one of the top offensive line prospects in the country. He's the sixth best offensive guard, according to Rivals. Walsh has had interest in Michigan since his visit for Junior Day, and that interest is still growing. Here's his sophomore film (his junior film isn't on YouTube), then our conversation.
TOM: Let's start with where your interest in Michigan started from.
JORDAN: I was getting some mail from them, and then I got a junior day invite. I went up there, and they saw my film somewhere, and that's how they offered me. They offered me when I was up there. It was just amazing there, too. The trophy cases, the championships, the coaches were awesome, and Ann Arbor, the town was awesome. I really felt a lot of interest being there.
TOM: Was that where all of this stemmed from? Just from a visit?
JORDAN: Well, my mom always liked Michigan. She was a big Michigan football fan, and she told me when I was younger that I should go to Michigan. When we went there, I really liked it. She loved the junior day visit, too. When Coach Rodriguez offered me, she started crying. I guess my mom saying that all those years really got me interested initially. She's a fan of everybody now, though. She wants me to make my own decision, so she's a fan of everybody.
TOM: So is your Mom coming with you on any other visits then?
JORDAN: We might be coming back up to Michigan on the 13th (Tuesday). I really want to see the academic side and the support system they have. I want to check if I went there, if they would help me out. I have around a 3.7 GPA right now, so that's important to me. I'm not 100% sure if we're coming because I was talking with one of the (Michigan) coaches, and he gave us two dates. I'm not sure which date me and my mom are going to choose yet.
TOM: Do you have a top list right now, or are you looking to narrow it down?
JORDAN: I have a top eight. It's (in no order) Michigan, Iowa, MSU, Northwestern, LSU, USC, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee. To summarize them all, I felt comfortable with all of them. I'm interested in all of them, and I like all the coaches.
TOM: Do you know when you're going to make your decision then?
JORDAN: I don't really have a timeline set. I really just want to see everything I'm looking for. If I see and hear the stuff that I need to, then after that I'll make my decision. I don't really know when that will be.
TOM: For the fans that don't know too much about you, tell us who you are as a football player.
JORDAN: Some coaches say that I finish my blocks, and I'm nasty on the field. To be honest, I just love the game of football. I'll do anything a coach ask me to do. I block, so I obviously can't ask for the ball, or anything. The offensive line is a cool position. You don't really get the glory, or praise, but you get to hit a lot of people.
Previously: S Carvin Johnson, S Ray Vinopal, S Marvin Robinson, CB Courtney Avery, CB Terrence Talbott, CB Cullen Christian, CB Demar Dorsey, LB Jake Ryan, LB Davion Rogers, LB Josh Furman, DE Jordan Paskorz, and DE Jibreel Black.
|Huber Heights, OH - 6'3" 245|
||Scout||3*, #41 DT|
|Rivals||3*, #61 DT|
|ESPN||3*, 75, #97 DT|
|Other Suitors||North Carolina, Wisconsin, UCLA, Michigan State|
|YMRMFSPA||Grant Bowman or Scooter Berry|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Commitment post. Tom interviews Talbott. FNL takes in a Wayne game.|
|Notes||Brother of CB recruit Terrance Talbott.|
Also 2008 highlights exist.
Terry Talbott is the older and much larger of the Talbott brothers. Born nine months and one day(!) before his brother Terrance. For a detailed psychoanalysis of the naming process there check Terrance's profile, or you can just take the mother's word on it:
"I was crazy in the hospital. They had me medicated up when they asked me for a name. Terrence just came out."
Thus are legends born. Terry, the elder, ended up a half-foot taller and close to a hundred pounds heavier. He's fortunate. My younger brother is currently 6'4". I am not.
Anyway, despite Terry's massive size advantage over his brother his relative lack of it compared to, say, Will Campbell is the main drag on his recruiting rankings above. You can either look at pictures in which he looks more like a tight end than a DT or listen to any of the many evaluations that mention the word "tweener," but the story is the same. ESPN's version($):
Talbott plays a little out of position in high school as a defensive tackle. In college he could be looking at a move to defensive end though he could still project to tackle. If he stays inside he will need to add serious bulk to his frame. Looks on film to have the build to be able to add more good size. … While build wise a move to end may be a better fit, long term skill wise staying at tackle may be better. … Talbott is a solid prospect, but a bit of 'tweener position wise right now.
When not talking about his inconvenient size, the evaluator praises his "ability to explode off the ball" and criticizes various technique issues with his hands and lowing his head. The word "adequate" pops up more than once, which is never a good sign, and the 75 rating he ended up with makes him the third lowest-ranked recruit in the class (Ray Vinopal and Courtney Avery are lower). Rivals's Greg Ladky caught a game during his senior year:
PERFORMANCE: He made a couple of tackles early, sprained his ankle late in the second quarter and played through obvious pain the rest of the way. While he wasn't as productive as he was in Week 1, he perhaps was more impressive due to his effort playing through an injury.
STRENGTHS: He's quick off the snap and has the eyes and recognition skills to finish plays.
WEAKNESSES: He does not have ideal size for a defensive tackle or the best frame for a defensive end. I would rather not call him a "tweener" because I think he is good enough to succeed at either position and "tweener" is often construed as a negative term. Talbott just doesn't have the eye-opening size that other elite defensive linemen have.
More of the same there, with Ladky's assertion that he doesn't want to use "tweener" unconvincing given the rating he ended up with.
That's the downside. The upside is his ability to get into the backfield. As a high school player he is crushingly effective. His coach:
"He's very big, very explosive and has a great change of direction," Minton said. "He's got an uncanny ability to get to the football and control the line of scrimmage. He creates a new line of scrimmage."
Ohio football observer Duane Long on Talbott's performance at OSU's camp:
Huber Heights Wayne defensive tackle prospect Terry Talbott has come in and put on a show. … Notice how often he does not use his hands. Needs a lot of work. He is just beating his opponents with elite level explosion off the ball. I have not heard measurables listed yet but the words "physical specimen" are being thrown about. We are kicking around a lot of names right now with the camp but I am not going to be surprised to see this one as the next Buckeye offer.
Meanwhile, his Scout scouting report mentions a high motor, excellent work ethic, and coachability. In a Rivals article($), an opposing coach who runs the option declares he "couldn't imagine" attempting to run an offense in which you'd actually have to block him, declaring "You'd need to dedicate two or three blockers on every play just to have a shot at defending him." Talbott is compared to Spartan DT and fellow Wayne HS alum Jerel Worthy, who you may remember tearing through Michigan's offensive line last year en route to freshman All-America recognition. Michigan State currently lists Worthy at 292, FWIW—Talbott has a long ways to go if he's going to get there.
In addition to all this, this blog's own Tim took in last year's Wayne-Princeton game, a 21-4 Wayne victory, and came away impressed:
Talbott was the Warriors' defensive MVP, e-fact. He was constantly in the opposing backfield, whether he was lined up at tackle or end. He was a quick penetrating type, and even when the Vikings started trying to counter against that (eventually), he was harassing QBs, forcing running backs into his teammates, and generally being a disruptive force. He doesn't have the biggest frame in the world, but there is certainly potential to add some mass and be a quick-penetrating "SEC-style" (ugh, shoot me) defensive tackle when he arrives in Ann Arbor. Trust me, he may be a little underrated because he's a tweener, but I think this kid is an absolute steal.
That combination of explosion, potential, and effort saw Terry pick up offers from Wisconsin, Purdue, Illinois, UCLA, Arkansas, NC State, Kentucky, and "a couple of other Big Ten schools" by July. Michigan hadn't yet pulled the trigger. When Michigan did, it didn't take long for the brothers to reciprocate. By August both were committed. Terry had a late flirtation with North Carolina, but stuck with Michigan and his brother on Signing Day. The Fax of Destiny is pictured above. I like to think whoever took it said "fax for the camera, baby."
At Michigan, Talbott steps into a situation where there are just two NT/DT types on the roster who will be around after what will presumably be a redshirt year. He has potential if he can add weight and maintain his quickness, but the skeptical rankings above seem about right to me. Adding 50 pounds and still being fast is quite a trick.
Etc.: Terry on his younger brother:
"If I'm down, he'll pick me up," Terry said. "If he's down, I'll pick him up. In football or not, I'm his big brother. I'm going to be on his side if anything's wrong and see if he's OK. We'll keep going through the good times or bad times."
Why Grant Bowman? Bowman was an active, effective three-tech defensive tackle despite checking in at just over six feet tall. By the time he was flitting around NFL practice squads and the World League he was up to 290, but as a recruit he was considerably smaller.
That's the Michigan connection, but a more recent and perhaps more accurate comparison is with current West Virginia senior DL Scooter Berry, who was a 245-pound fullback recruit back in high school and now pushing 290. Berry redshirted and then was an instant starter despite his lack of size. As a sophomore he was second-team All Big East; his junior year was marred by a shoulder injury. Fun biographical fact: Berry is the half-brother of legendary bust Jason Gwaltney. And yes, he's in that infamous picture.
Guru Reliability: Just less than high. Consensus on his ability, but apparently no combines.
General Excitement Level: Moderate. If Talbott was Warren Sapp's size he'd be Warren Sapp but the reason Warren Sapp is Warren Sapp is that people Warren Sapp's size don't move like Warren Sapp. Deep breath. Anyway: it's a tough choice between Talbott's ability to crush competition ranging from good high school opponents to various D-I prospects at Ohio State's camp and the idea that he's a 6'3"-ish defensive tackle who may need to put on 50 pounds to play consistently in the Big Ten. Will Talbott come out the other end of the Barwis machine anything like the player he went in?
Projection: Obvious redshirt on both size and technique grounds. Will probably mostly watch his second year as well. From there, could be one of those very good college players with no real NFL future—see that entire Bowman-era DL—or could fade away due to size limitations.
As a reminder, recruiting updates are saved for posterity on the 2011 Michigan Football Recruiting Board.
About To Drop?
FL OL Tony Posada may be getting close to a Florida offer ($, info in header). He just needs to lose 10 pounds and the Gators have promised he'll receive one. [Ed: Or that could be a slow-play and Florida isn't going to offer.] Florida was his childhood favorite, so that could dampen his Michigan lean. Posada and MI OL Jake Fisher (pictured at right) are both deciding soon.
If one or both of them pick(s) Michigan, that would be a fine start to Michigan's offensive line haul in the class. The Wolverines are the favorite for both, but Fisher plans to check out Michigan State once more before making a decision, and Posada is searching for that Florida offer.
Much, much more on their ability to play football if they commit.
Tops In State
Scout has released its Top 80 List for the state of Michigan. The Top 10, and other recruits of interest (or who might be at some point):
- 1 LB Lawrence Thomas (MSU Commit)
- 2 WR DeAnthony Arnett
- 3 DE Brennen Beter (Michigan Commit)
- 4 OL/DE Anthony Zettel
- 5 RB Justice Hayes
- 6 OL Jake Fisher
- 7 CB Valdez Showers
- 8 RB Onaje Miller (MSU Commit)
- 9 LB Ed Davis
- 10 CB Delonte Hollowell (Michigan Commit)
- 11 WR Shawn Conway (Michigan Commit)
- 13 RB Thomas Rawls
- 16 LB Taiwan Jones (Michigan State Commit)
- 21 DE Damon Knox
- 22 TE Ben McCord
- 35 TE Nate Dreslinski
- 46 FB Joey Kerridge
- 59 RB DaShawn Bell
- 66 LB Dwight Trammer
- 73 OL Bryan Bell
- 74 OL Willie Beavers
Right now, it appears as though Michigan State has the slight edge in-state, but the Wolverines have a good chance to close out strong.
In the same vein, Sam Webb's weekly Detroit News column runs down a few of the top guys in the state who are uncommitted. The main prospects of interest in that story are OL Jake Fisher and LB Ed Davis, but it sounds like RB Thomas Rawls could pick up a Michigan offer somewhere down the line.
Scott Burnstein of the Oakland Press runs down a couple in-state sleepers who impressed at Michigan's summer camp.
Assume The Position: Tight End
The times, they have changed since I last broke down tight end recruiting. With the number of offers Michigan's coaching staff has out at the position, I think it's pretty clear that they want one in this class (though they could be offering some guys with the intention of moving them to the defensive side of the ball).
The biggest recent news is OH TE Ray Hamilton's commitment to Iowa. Michigan had appeared to be very strong in his recruitment until he joined the Hawkeyes' class of 2011. Though his commitment seems firm, his dad's connection to Rich Rodriguez could help Michigan stay in the picture with a good season.
SC TE Jerrell Adams seems to have a Michigan offer, and the Wolverines are definitely in the picture ($, info in header). He's definitely a possibility for the spot.
NJ TE Taques Franklin has legit Michigan interest, and plans to take an official visit. However, a little birdie tells me that he has some work to do in the classroom to ensure that he will qualify to play at the next level.
NJ TE/QB Tanner McEvoy (maybe intent on being a QB?), NC TE Drew Owens, FL TE Brandon Fulse, and OH TE Austin Traylor and are guys that Michigan tossed an offer to, and haven't seemed to talk about the Wolverines too much since. I'll assume they're pseudo-longshots.
Happy trails, NY QB Ashton Broyld. Though he's visited Michigan, he's not hearing from the Wolverines.
Happy trails, NJ RB Savon Huggins, who released a Top/Final 10 list without Michigan.
Happy trails to FL LB Kent Turene. For whatever reason, the staff never offered Turene, even as it became clear that Demar Dorsey's former teammate was going to wind up as a big time prospect. With adequate time to evaluate him (and obvious hints that he was interested in Michigan), I'll trust their opinion in not offering him. He's now committed to USC.
NC QB Marquise Williams is still planning to decide soon ($, info in header). Michigan was already slipping, and the commitment of FL QB Kevin Sousa is another indication that he won't put on the maize and blue cap.
As The Demetrius Turns... FL RB Demetrius Hart still has Michigan and Auburn on top. Those two and Alabama are still the main contenders for his services. He's considering multiple Michigan visits this fall, and there's no reason to believe the Wolverines have slipped.
OH WR AJ Jordan plans to trim his list soon ($, info in header). Jordan is probably the hottest prospect on Michigan's board at wide receiver, as most expect him to end up donning the winged helmet. AJ should commit before the season starts, and could join his former teammates (Roy Roundtree et al) in Ann Arbor.
MI WR Willie Snead hasn't been hearing much from Michigan, but is getting attention from... Florida? I wonder if things will pick up with the local schools. If not, he'll slip right of the ol' recruiting board.
Though some Michigan fans have been expecting an early decision from MI OL Anthony Zettel, he tells ESPN that's not going to happen. He's considering a couple official visits, mainly to check out Penn State and Iowa (and maybe UCLA), schools on his favorites list that he hasn't had a chance to see. The Wolverines and Spartans still have a healthy lead on the rest of the field. Zettel seems like one of the many prospects that Michigan should land as long as they start the season strong.
Shoutout to MGoUser JC3 who brought this to my attention: IL OL Chris Bryant recently received a Big Ten offer ($, info in header), and Tom confirmed via Twitter that it was from the Wolverines . He'd been openly campaigning for such an offer, so does that mean he might join Michigan's class? He won't decide for a while, but the Wolverines are probably near the top of his list.
Though this local fluff on VA LB Curtis Grant (pictured at right) doesn't mention Michigan, it does say he's planning to take his time making a decision - and he has interest across the country.
In came Grant, a freshman who had played sparingly up to that point in the season for Richmond-based Hermitage. On the conversion attempt, Highland Springs' quarterback rolled to his right and stopped before attempting to catch Hermitage's defense by surprise with a pass back across the field. Grant batted the pass down to negate the threat.
"I was like 'Wow, the first play we send him in and he makes an impact play'" Kane said. "From then on, he was not afraid of competition. He just went out there and played. That was pretty special for a kid of that age — a ninth-grader coming into a playoff game to replace a senior."
Yay fun anecdote. VolNation doesn't mention a Michigan visit, but I think he's planning to take one in August.
PA CB Kyshoen Jarrett has released a top/final 9, with Michigan, Illinois, MSU, UConn, Penn State, Pitt, Stanford, Virginia, and Wisconsin. He plans to trim again in about a month, and take a few official visits before coming to a decision.
TomVH's weekly update has all the latest news on AZ OL Cyrus Hobbi, FL OL Tony Posada, GA S Avery Walls, and a couple more prospects. Check it out for the news. Speaking of Walls, he comes in for some local fluff. He genuinely enjoyed his Ann Arbor visit, and the coaches will be all over this top safety.
[Ed: MCalibur, apparenly an economist found himself collateral damage on today's shotgun blast at "X is stupid" sports economists. Maybe I should have come up with a label like "freakonomists" so as to not implicate people who are just interested in the numbers without the look at me pub. Anyway, here's an excellent diary on what your goals should be on second and third down. Implications for a second and medium are interesting.]
A while back The Mathlete sent out a Thundercat signal for some help shucking data for his database; at least that’s how I remember it. Any un-lame kid of the 80’s knows that when you see the Thundercat Crest you put on your spiked suspenders, pick up your laser shooting panther paw nun chucks, jump into the tank you built singlehandedly, and you roll; that’s all there is to it. I had no choice.
Anyway, we voltroned* our abilities together and came up with something pretty sweet. I have put together my own database, with Mathlete’s help, and can now do some of the same tricks he can. I’ve focused onto BCS-BCS matchups extending the thought of excluding mismatches; Michigan v. Eastern Michigan is still a significant mismatch.
*Oops, wrong cartoon but, then again, you simply cannot over-reference 80’s cartoons/shows. I pity the fool that disagrees. I feel bad for youngins that don’t know the glory of 80’s children’s programming. Also, am I the only one who thinks that Voltron and Zoltan might be related?
When I’m not eliciting unreasonable responses from otherwise reasonable people, I’m usually crunching numbers of some kind as if they were a motley band of mutants and aliens led by a grody and ancient mummy demon priest. Very often the numbers have something to do with football in general and, most often, Michigan football specifically. This time I wondered “how do we know if a play was successful or not?” This question has been asked and answered by some smart people before, but being the curious little twit that I am, I wanted to gauge it on my own.
One way to go about it is Mathlete Style: Expected Points, a good but abstract method. One potential problem with focusing on EP is that doing so can drive you to scoring points where as the real goal is to win. It’s a subtle but important distinction. Depending on the situation, maximizing EP might not be the same as maximizing the probability that you will win. Maybe you would rather not score if doing so means giving Peyton Manning the ball back with 25 seconds left and less than a 1 score deficit. Besides, The Mathlete has this beat covered.
Another method is to use 1st Down Probability, the likelihood that a team will convert a new set of downs given the current down and distance. I think this is more appropriate to the microcosm of a play because the goal of a play is not necessarily to score it is to keep the ball and move it forward, in that order. Scoring is the goal of an entire drive. To calculate 1DP, you do the same thing you would to derive EP, except you keep track of first downs instead of points.
Whenever you have a mountain of data, you need a way to focus your attention on what matters while still maintaining the value of having so much data in the first place. For this study, I’ve filtered on the following criterion:
- Exclude plays involving a penalty of any kind.
- The game must be close. My arbitrary definition is: all plays in the first and second quarter, third quarter plays where the lead is less than 17, and fourth quarter plays where the lead is less than 10. These values are arbitrary, but there are so many plays available that the sample sizes are still large enough that any additional precision is of negligible value. Also, any unimportant plays are swarmed by a large number of plays that are important, then math deals with the noise.
- Results of the play are limited to –10 and +25 yards. The logic here is two fold. On the negative side, the average sack is good for about 6 to 8 yards, anything bigger than that is a fluke play (botched snap for example). On the positive side, most plays aren’t designed to go for huge gains. However, there are instances when an OC calls a play like that in order to exploit an advantage and not necessarily as part of a base strategy. Though relatively infrequent, both types of plays happen with enough regularity that they significantly shift the averages even though they are vastly outnumbered by more typical gains. This filter only excludes about 0.5% of all plays to the negative side and about 5.3% to the positive side.
Each play in the database has been assigned a 0 or 1 depending on whether or not it was part of a first down series, touchdowns are counted as first downs in this survey. Essentially, every play in a four down sequence is counted as a being part of a 1st down unless a punt or turnover occurs before a new set of downs is achieved. Filtering the plays that made the cut (over 105k) by down results in the following scatter plot:
Every point on the chart above has at least 15 samples, most have several hundred, some have several thousand, and 1st and 10 has almost 42,000 samples. The trends are self evident and really, really, strong. A few comments on other decisions I’ve needed to make here:
- The small black dots represent 4th down plays. They are essentially overlaid with the 3rd down plays which makes sense, the objectives in both cases is the same, convert to a 1st Down. If you’re in a 4th down decision, use the 3rd down line.
- The curves for 1st and 2nd Down were both pegged to 100% probability of converting a new set of downs at zero yards to go; pretty obvious as to why, it’s the rules. On 3rd Down however, I opted not to peg it to y3 = 1 at x = 0 because even though the R-squared value doesn’t suffer by much (0.005 lower), the resulting curve significantly over estimates 3rd down success inside of 3rd and 5. Also, I think the gap could be real; how much error is there in spotting the ball (especially on QB sneak type plays)? To me this data implies that the ball is mis-spotted to deny a 1st Down conversion approximately 9% of the time. The incremental error of spotting the ball doesn't matter until you end up at 4th and inches.
- For 1st down plays, I intervened on behalf of noise reduction by only including plays where the distance was in multiples of 5. The reason is that the rules say you start at 1st and 10 and the only way you end up with 1st and something other than a multiple of 5 is A) you’re inside the opponents 10, and B) multiple penalties or 1st down repeats after spot fouls. Plays that were rejected are largely noise; the legitimate plays (ex. 1st and X inside the opp. 10) act like 2nd down plays, so use that in those cases.
Generating Hard Targets
Now that we have a survey, we can use the information to answer the question I asked “what makes a successful play”? The question has been tackled before in the seminal tome The Hidden Game of Football. The DVOA system developed by Football Outsiders is based in concepts discussed in Hidden Game. Hidden Game presents the following goal schedule:
On first down, a play is considered a success if it gains 45 percent of needed yards; on second down, a play needs to gain 60 percent of needed yards; on third or fourth down, only gaining a new first down is considered success.
So, the goal schedule by down should be 4-ish yards on 1st Down10, 3 yards on 2nd and 6, and 3 yards on 3rd and 3. I haven’t read Hidden Game but this doesn’t look right, particularly in short yardage situations. For example, 2nd and 1 is a failure if you do not convert a new set of downs. Sure, the consequences of that failure are small because you are virtually guaranteed another chance to convert but gaining zero yards (we only have whole yard resolution) is failure by definition.
Brian Brown of Advanced NFL Stats fame has a better definition: a play is a success as long as your chances to convert a new set of downs are not hurt by the result of a play. The great thing about this definition is that it considers the opportunity cost of running a play. This simple idea probably explains why a lot of OC’s call conservative plays on 1st and 10, if you don’t advance the ball by about 4 yards, you’re worse off than you started. Brown focuses his work on the NFL and has done this work for the League but he stopped at the first chart leaving the answer to the question abstract-don’t hurt your chances of getting a new set of downs. OK, but how do you avoid that?
Running an optimization routine on our curves gives us the concrete answer, a goal schedule by down and distance in chart form.
- 3rd down is obvious, you need to gain all of the yards remaining or you’ve failed. Fourth down decisions should be avoided.
- The 1st down requirement is virtually flat at a 37% yield, lower than what Hidden Game suggested.
- The 2nd down requirement is asymptotic to 65% yield but reaches a requirement of 80% yield by 5 yards to go. Essentially, you need at least 4 yards on 2nd and 5 to not have wasted the down.
First down is all business, you must move the ball 37% of the way or you’re screwing yourself. Third down is also all business, you need to convert or risk deciding which poison tastes the best. Second down however, depending in the situation, that’s a down you can get jiggy with.
On a generic 1st and 10, there’s a 64% chance of converting a new set of downs. So, as long as you end up with about a 64% chance of converting on 3rd down, you can do whatever you want on second down as long as you don’t lose yards or give the ball away. That means, you need to end up at 3rd and 3 or better. On 2nd and 3 or better call in the B2s and Outkast, baby, ‘cause it’s time to drop bombs (over Baghdad).
The last straw for Run of Play proprietor, Slate contributor, and Dirty Tackle blogger Brian Phillips were two articles on consecutive days citing Franklin Foer's assertion that dictatorships led to good soccer. Many of the nations that have been super good at soccer over the years have been run by dictators if you lump Vichy France in with them and think Hitler and Mussolini have anything to do with anything in the 21st century. The first problem with this piece of intellectual noodling is that the percentage of teams who have won the World Cup during or after a period of dictatorship (86%) is almost equivalent to the percentage of countries that have undergone periods of dictatorship since 1930. Twenty-five of the 32 teams in this year's edition have done so, 78%.
The second is that the statement means nothing. Phillips on the Kuper/Szymanski book Soccernomics, which endeavors to be a Freakonomics for the beautiful game:
You want to say that money is the secret behind soccer success, so you break down international games by GDP and find that, yeah, it matches up fairly well. But it doesn’t work as a theory, because China is terrible at soccer and the US is only okay at it. So you invent a variable called “tradition” and add it into the formula, which helps (now Brazil’s looking really strong), but you’re still left struggling to explain why, say, England doesn’t do better. So you add in population size, and on and on and on. Eventually, you have a delicately balanced curl of math that correctly reproduces the results of most recent matches (even if it accidentally predicts that Serbia will reach the current World Cup final). So you go to a publisher, but no one wants to buy a book about how GDP is covariable with national-team success 40% of the time, or whatever; they want a book that claims to have Uncovered the Secrets of Soccer© Using Funky Mathematical Techniques™. And so you’re led into making grand claims for the predictive power of research that really only demonstrates correlation. And there’s enough data swirling around a complex event like the World Cup that you could get the same results by collating fishing exports, number of historic churches, and percentage of authors whose names include a tilde.
You have no mechanism. Your correlation is extraordinarily weak. You have just wasted everyone's time.
The very same day, Slate (et tu!) published an article by a guy who studies a particular brain parasite claiming a correlation between soccer performance and infection rates of Toxoplasma gondii, a bacteria whose raison d'être is to get in a cat's stomach so it can make babies. An R-squared was not mentioned, but it was gestured to. Regression rules everything around me. This is why most published research results are false.
Soccer is not the only sport suffering from pseudoscience obsessed with elevating correlation above all else, mechanism be damned, and elegant curls of math that prove little other than the academic's talent for obfuscation in the name of publishing. Kuper and Syzmanski actually got to the party late. Princeton economist and Malcolm Gladwell fave-rave David Berri's been here for years, and he's packing the platonic ideal of delicately balanced curls of math that end up ludicrous on further inspection. Behold the best (and sixth-best) players of the 1999 NBA season:
the emperor's clothes are fine indeed.
Berri made a splash in the sports world when he released a transparently silly book that purported to show that Dennis Rodman was responsible for more wins than teammate Michael Jordan. This drew the ire of the basketball statistics community and anyone with a damn lick of sense. People set about showing that Berri was peddling snake-oil. I even had a go at it in one of the erratic Pistons posts that showed up around here a couple years ago, noting that after Ben Wallace left the Pistons' rebounding changed not one percent on either end of the floor. Ben Wallace got his rebounds from his teammates. (It turned out that Wallace's major skill was an ability to keep opponents off the free throw line.)
This did not take, unfortunately, and Berri has been permitted to say silly things about all sports that apparently intelligent people take seriously because he has "Princeton" next to his name. He moved on from basketball to "show" that NFL teams don't care how well their quarterbacks perform, only how high they're drafted…
Aggregate performance and draft position are statistically related. But as Rob and I argue, this is because in the NFL (like we see in the NBA) draft position is linked to playing time. And this link is independent of performance.
…that NHL goalies are indistinguishable from each other…
... there simply is little difference in the performance of most NHL goalies.
…and has returned to state basketball coaches don't understand who their best players are:
"... the allocation of minutes suggests the age profile in basketball is not well understood by NBA coaches."
Berri's at least had the common sense to stay away from baseball, where a horde of men with razor-sharp protractors wait for him to make a false move. (We will see later that collaborator JC Bradbury has not.) The statistical communities in football, basketball, and hockey are considerably more unsure of what the hell is going on in their chosen sport and are thus vulnerable to suggestion from an economist, even if it's one who seems to have never watched a sport of any variety.
The problem with all of Berri's outlandish theories is that they are wrong. Not because of old guys who peer into the soul of Andre Ethier and see a ballplayer, but because of other, more careful numbers from people who are looking for things that are true instead of things that are impressive to Malcolm Gladwell.
Berri's study actually shows that amongst quarterbacks who play a lot, draft position is not a strong factor in their performance. This is his magnificent leap:
For us to study the link between draft position and performance, we can only consider players who actually performed. It’s possible that those quarterbacks who never performed were really bad quarterbacks. But since they never played, we don’t know that (and Pinker also doesn’t know this).
Low draft picks who don't play only find the bench because of bias. A coach's decision to start one player over the other is a worthless signal. Coaches are dumb.
When you restrict your regressions to the top 20 goalies in terms of minutes, about half of the variation in save percentage appears repeatable. A standard deviation of talent is worth around ten goals. These days, a unit of five skaters who finished +50 at the end of the season would be heroes on the league's best team. Berri's undisclosed approach to the data set apparently takes goalies with far fewer than starter's minutes. A quick correlation run by Phil Birnbaum shows radically different r-squared values than those Berri finds just by upping the sample size. Maybe Birnbaum's numbers aren't dead-on—he doesn't use even strength save percentage, for instance—but he's not the one claiming a massive inefficiency. He's just showing that throwing a small r-squared out doesn't actually mean anything:
I don't know how the authors got .06 when my analysis shows .14 ... maybe their cutoff was lower than 1,000 minutes. Maybe there's some selection bias in my sample of top goalies only. Maybe my four seasons just happened to be not quite representative. Regardless, the fact that the r-squared varies so much with your selection criterion shows that you can't take it at face value without doing a bit of work to interpret it.
Age in the NBA
In the NBA, 23 and 24 year old players net more minutes than any other age bracket, and while the average age of an NBA minute is 26.6 this year there's a blindingly obvious explanation for this:
Berri and Schmidt think that NBA minutes peak later than 24 because coaches don't understand how players age. It seems obvious that there's a more plausible explanation -- that it's because players like Shaquille O'Neal are able to play NBA basketball at age 37, but not at age 9.
In sum: wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong.
So what's going on here?
When you've got a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Berri's hammer is regression analysis, and he goes about hitting everything he can find with it until he finds something that seems vaguely nail-like from a certain angle. Then he proclaims a group of extremely well-paid subject matter experts dumb. When challenged about this, he says things like "regressions are nice, but not always understood by everyone." He calls the protestors dumb.
This is more than a logical fallacy: it's a worldview. In a post on a cricket study by another set of authors, Birnbaum points out the assumption built into a lot of economics studies. It, like most of Berri's work, runs a regression on some data and reports back that something fails to be statistically significant:
The authors chose the null hypothesis that the managers' adjustment of HFA [home field advantage] is zero. They then fail to reject the hypothesis.
But, what if they chose a contradictory null hypothesis -- that managers' HFA *irrationality* was zero? That is, what if the null hypothesis was that managers fully understood what HFA meant and adjusted their expectations accordingly? The authors would have included a "managers are dumb" dummy variable. The equations would have still come up with 4% for a road player and 10% for a home player -- and it would turn out that the significance of the "managers are dumb" variable would not be significant. Two different and contradictory null hypotheses, both which would be rejected by the data. The authors chose to test one, but not the other.
Basically, the test the authors chose is not powerful enough to distinguish the two hypotheses (manager dumb, manager not dumb) with statistical significance.
But if you look at the actual equation, which shows that home players are twice as likely to be dropped than road players for equal levels of underperformance -- it certainly looks like "not dumb" is a lot more likely than "dumb".
The goalie example is the most illuminating here: by adjusting the parameters of your study you can arrive at radically different conclusions. I'm not sure if Berri is intentionally skewing his results to get shiny Moneyball answers, but given how dumb his justifications are for the NFL study that's the kinder interpretation. Running around saying that we don't know that the average sixth rounder isn't John Elway waiting to happen because they can't get on the field is obtuseness that almost has to be intentional. On the other hand, he does blithely state he's "not sure there is much to clarify" about his assertion that NFL general managers are on par with stock-picking monkeys when it comes to identifying quarterbacks, so he may be that genuinely clueless. (The Lions tried a stock-picking monkey. It didn't work out.)
There's often a kernel of truth in a Berri study. When the Oilers were casting about for a goalie, smart Oilers bloggers were noting the glut of basically average goalies available and jumped off a cliff when they signed a mediocre 36-year-old to a four year, $15 million dollar deal when they could have signed two guys for something around the league minimum and expected about the same performance. That's something close to the criticism Berri levels with the volume turned way down. Hockey and football and basketball are not baseball. It is incredibly difficult to encapsulate performance in any of these sports in statistics. So when Berri makes a proclamation that NHL goalies are basically the same based on plain old save percentage—which isn't even the best metric available—he ascribes more power to a stat than it deserves and simultaneously ignores a raging debate about one of the most difficult questions in sports statistics to get a handle on.
At the very least, the questions Berri attempts to tackle with really complicated regressions are murky things best delivered with a dose of humility. Instead Berri and colleagues say there is "simply" no difference, that his research is "not understood by everyone," that a formula that declares Jeff Francouer worth 12 million a year is justifiable and that protestors are making "consistent basic errors in logic, economics and statistics" when any minor league player making the minimum could replace his production, and that David Berri went to Princeton. If he bothers to respond to what's admittedly a pretty shrill criticism, he will undoubtedly state that if only I had managed to understand his papers the many ludicrous conclusions easily disproved by competing studies (QBs, save percentage), simple facts that blow up the idea being presented (NBA minutes), or common sense (Rodman, Francouer) would have come to me in an epiphany.
These things are all ridiculously complicated and it's obvious with every response to another Berri study that declares someone dumb that different views on the data produce different results. Berri's overarching thesis is that subject matter experts make huge errors because they refuse to look at data from all possible angles. Stuck in their ruts, they robotically bang out decisions like their forefathers. Statistician, heal thyself.
There may be some social utility in distracting economists from theorizing about the economy, but there's no utility in the domain they're actually tackling.
The weekly update is a little slim today, with two commits dropping last week, and the holiday weekend. Here's the latest on this week's happenings.
6'4, 285 lbs.
Cyrus is a big offensive line prospect with major offers to his name. Hobbi currently holds around 17 offers including Michigan, Alabama, ASU, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and USC. As we've found out with other prospects in Arizona, it's sometimes hard to get them out for a visit, especially when it's an unofficial on their own dime. Well, the Hobbi family just happens to be taking a cross country trip to New York, and they will be stopping by Ann Arbor on the way:
We're coming up next week, on Tuesday (July 13th). We're just coming for the day on our way to New York. I don't know a lot about Michigan, so this visit will help me decide if I'm really interested, or not.
That seems fair. Cyrus told me he played against Taylor Lewan and Craig Roh as a sophomore, but doesn't know them well enough to call them up and talk about Michigan. Craig actually tried his patented spin move on Hobbi and was shut down. He's also planning on stopping by Notre Dame. Those plans have changed:
I'm not going to Notre Dame anymore, they haven't returned any of my calls. I guess they filled up, but they won't call me back, either. I'll just enjoy myself at Michigan instead.
Take that! This visit is big for Michigan, who otherwise probably wouldn't have been able to get him on campus before the season. This will give him and his family a chance to see everything without a group of other recruits there, without any distractions.
6'6", 315 lbs.
Tony Posada recently named Michigan his leader after his visit up to Ann Arbor. That still holds true, and it may just be a matter of time before he ends his recruitment:
We're working out a date with my family and coaches to make a decision. I'd like to do it as soon as possible, it could be next week, it could be longer; we're not sure yet. Michigan is still my leader, though.
So... ya know, there's that. It seems like Michigan should be getting the call soon. I hate making predictions off of information that seems obvious, but an upcoming decision with a declared leader is almost always a decision that's already been made privately.
5'11", 184 lbs.
I spoke with Walls recently about his interest in Michigan. He played it close to the vest, but let out a little insight on how this will play out.
Michigan is a team that I am considering very highly. I will be paying close attention to the beginning of their season.
As we've seen with a number of other recruits. If Michigan wins early, they'll get real shot him. If they get off to a slow start, then it will be an uphill battle. Those first six or seven games are going to be CRUCIAL to Michigan's recruiting efforts.
- PA DB Kyshoen Jarrett will have his narrowed down list today, once he clears it with his coach. He told me that Michigan was on it, and he's very interested.
- Instate OL Jake Fisher says he wants to make his decision in the next few weeks. It's between Michigan and MSU at this point. I think Michigan has the slight edge. He does plan on going back up to MSU soon. and things can change quickly, but we look to be in the driver seat.
- PA safety Dondi Kirby tore his ACL, and will be out for the season. It's an unfortunate time to have that happen, as a football recruit. Not that there's a good time for it to happen, but you know what I mean.