Saturday, February 13, 2010

LPGA Break Points: 2000-2009

Last January I looked at the season-by-season winnings of the #1, #2, #5, #10, #20, #30, #50, #80, #100, and #125 players on the LPGA from 2000 to 2008. Why these positions on the money list? The top 50 on the money list typically get into the late-season Asian swing; the top 80 in one season get Category 1 status the following season; #100 is the cut-off for Category 11 status; and #125 is the cut-off for Category 15 status. While it used to be the top 90 who got fully exempt status (roughly equivalent to Category 1 in the current membership system), I thought it would be interesting to track the top 80 trends here--plus it would help us look ahead and try to figure out where the upcoming season's "cut line" will fall. Based on the average takings from those years, I predicted:

So if you figure that taking home 1% of the total 2009 purse gets you top 30 status, .5% gets you into the top 50, and .25% gets you into the top 80, then the numbers everyone will be shooting for this coming season are something like $550K, $275K, and $137.5K (assuming the total purse is $55M).

As it turned out, the total purse for 2009 was $47.6M, so my actual predictions should have been $476K for a top 30, $238K for a top 50, and $119K for a top 80. Here's how they actually turned out:

1. Ji-Yai Shin $1.81M
2. Cristie Kerr $1.52M
5. Suzann Pettersen $1.37M
10. Angela Stanford $1.08M
20. Hee Young Park $666.3K
30. Se Ri Pak $447.7K (.941% of the total purse for the season)
50. Inbee Park $271.3K (.570%)
80. Irene Cho $118.3K (.249%)
100. Reilley Rankin $79.1K (.166%)
125. Johanna Mundy $34.7K

What I was originally looking for when compiling the decade's stats was evidence that the talent pool on the LPGA has been getting deeper. Following a comment from Hound Dog on an earlier version of that post, I also got curious as to how the increasing number of limited-field events affects gaps between the #50, #80, and #100 players.

So let's review the takings over the course of the decade:

#30 takings: .767% (2000), .825% (2001), .881% (2002), .984% (2003), .978% (2004), 1.002% (2005), .757% (2006), .857% (2007), 1.045% (2008), .941% (2009); 2000-2009 average: .904%; 2000-2004 average: .887%; 2005-2009 average: .920%

#50 takings: .472% (2000), .515% (2001), .481% (2002), .521% (2003), .555% (2004), .546% (2005), .529% (2006), .484% (2007), .622 (2008), .570% (2009); 2000-2009 average: .530%; 2000-2004 average: .509%; 2005-2009 average: .550%

#80 takings: .275% (2000), .252% (2001), .263% (2002), .214% (2003), .288% (2004), .227% (2005), .224% (2006), .214% (2007), .228 (2008), .249 (2009); 2000-2009 average: .243%; 2000-2004 average: .258%; 2005-2009 average: .228%

#100 takings: .203% (2000), .148% (2001), .158% (2002), .159% (2003), .183% (2004), .144% (2005), .144% (2006), .135% (2007), .168% (2008), .166% (2009); 2000-2009 average: .161%; 2000-2004 average: .170%; 2005-2009 average: .151%

The gap between the #30 and #50 player on tour had been growing steadily between 2000 and 2003, from .295 to .310 to .400 to .463, and only dropped slightly in 2004 to .423; from 2005 to 2006, however, the gap declined sharply from .456 to .228, and only went back up to .373 and .423 in 2007 and 2008 before falling again to .371 in 2009. That averages out to a .378 gap in the 1st half of the decade and a .370 gap in the 2nd half. So while a lot depends on the size of the gap this coming season before we can draw any definite conclusions, the data suggests that with most of the top 50 players getting into most of the limited-field events, there hasn't been a sharper separation between the #30 and #50 players over the course of the decade; if anything, the #50 players have been making up a little ground on the #30 players over the second half of the decade.

Similarly, the gap between the #30 and #80 players grew steadily from 2000 to 2003 (from .492 to .573 to .618 to .770) and dropped slightly in 2004 (to .690); where the data departs from the #30-#50 gap, however, is from 2005-2009 (moving from .775 to .533 to .643 to .817 to .692): the average gap in the 1st half of the decade was .629, while in the 2nd half of the decade it grew to .692. 2010 will have to buck this trend in a serious way to make a dent in that increasing separation between the #30 and #80 players. Meanwhile, the gap between the #50 and #80 players is widening even further, from .251 in the 1st half of the decade to .322 in the 2nd. That's a 22% increase in the gap between the #50 and #80 players compared to a 9% increase in the gap between the #30 and #80 players--pretty serious.

It seems clear, then, that the increase in limited-field events in the 2nd half of this decade is benefitting the top 50 players over the next 30 players on the LPGA in a fairly significant way. I see no reason for this trend not to continue in 2010, as the smaller number of total events and higher proportion of limited-field events mean that the better players will get richer. But as the #50 player tends to be doing better relative to the #80 player than the #30 player over time, I also see evidence that the talent pool on the LPGA is deepening.

This trend becomes even clearer when you bring the #100 player into the picture. Just as before, the gap between the #30 and #100 players has been widening from the 1st half (.717) to the 2nd half of the decade (.769), but the separation has been even sharper between the #50 and #100 players (from .339 to .398). Again, the #50 player's takings relative to the #100 player are increasing faster than the #30 player's, although the difference is a bit smaller (a 17.4% increase compared to a 7.3% increase). What this suggests is that the bottom of the 2nd 50 on the LPGA have been holding the line a little better than the top, despite being similarly shut out of most limited-field events. In fact, the distance between the #80 and #100 players actually shrunk from .088 in 2000-2004 to .077 in 2005-2009--a 12.5% drop!

Here's further evidence that the talent pool on the LPGA has been deepening this decade. With the #100 players closing the gap on the #80 players, the competition for those last Category 1 spots has been getting more intense (or would have, if the current rules had been in place all decade). If this trend continues, we're likely to see more years like 2008, where Julieta Granada had the 3rd-best takings of the decade among the #100 players, coming very close to the decade's average, while Wendy Doolan's were only the 6th-best among the #80 players, significantly behind both the 5th-best and the decade's average. In 2009, Rankin had the 4th-best takings of the decade among the #100 players, while Cho had the 5th-best among the #80s; whereas both exceeded the decade's average takings, neither surpassed the averages in the 1st half of the decade. So once again we see how hard it is for those in the fight for Category 1 status to compete against the top 50 and how the #100s are not that far behind the #80s.

I take a couple of final things from this analysis. One is that it's a good thing those who make the top 100 on the money list in one season get pretty much full status for the following season. Since they came so close to getting into Category 1, it makes sense that they are interspersed with Q-School graduates to round out the LPGA's regulars. Two is that it might be worth looking at how the #15 player has fared over the course of the decade relative to the #30, #50, #80, and #100 players. As we've come close to seeing 15 members in the Million Dollar Club in several recent seasons, I'm thinking the number of truly elite players has been increasing on tour over time. But that's a subject for another post!


Jim C said...

Even recognizing the increase in limited field events is not enough. The average event today has far more top players than a few years ago.

Idea one. Compare performance of groups of players like 10 to 20 or 50 to 60 in events with loaded fields like the Kraft or the LPGA Championship.

Idea two. For the psst couple of years rank LPGA players on their Rolex rankings--and compare Rolex numbers for number 30 and number 50 and number 80 etc.

The Constructivist said...

Nice ideas, Jim. Deeper talent pool, more limited field events, more top players playing week in and week out as schedule shrinks.... I'll have to think about them some more. Hound Dog has a system for ranking fields and he's used it for over a year now--he has repeatedly made the point that it's not just majors that have the strongest fields these days on the LPGA. It kind of combines both your ideas on a week-by-week basis, so the question becomes how to combine it with other stats....

On idea 2, specifically, I see why you'd choose Rolex, as it's the only major system that goes back 2 years. But I like my Best of the LPGA system a lot and I like the LPGA Prognostication Derby top 30 that I generate to score preseason picks even more, so maybe if I extend that enough to rank the #80 and #100 players on the money list the last 2 seasons.... Probably better to do it simpler 1st and then see how much of a difference using my system makes, if any. On the other hand, isn't using Rolex problematic in the sense that it's a global ranking and not an LPGA-specific one? That is, if players on other tours are doing well relative to lower-ranked LPGAers in one year, it doesn't necessarily mean they're better or that the LPGAers are worse than their precedessors.

Ugh, too tired to think straight. Am I making any sense?