Friday, June 20, 2008

Quantifying Dominance, Part 1: Wins and Other Finishes

Tiger's gutty Open win and announcement that his season is over got me thinking about my recent critique of Jason Sobel in a different light. I started wondering how one might back up claims that x or y is the most dominant player on their tour or that a's dominance on tour b is more impressive than c's on tour d. The method I've gone to more than any other for the latter is to compare rankings chasms. But there are better ones. They just involve a bit more data collection (via and I'm not going to actually crunch too many numbers here today or in future posts in this series. Instead, my aim is to give you a sense of what some key ways of quantifying dominance are, what they mean, why they're useful, and how to put them together when trying to determine an MDP.

Today, I'll focus on one kind of result: how you finish relative to the field.

Winning Percentages: It's not the total number of wins that's the gold standard of dominance; it's how close you can come to winning every time you start and how close you come to the perfect season--winning every event on tour--that matters most. Expressing these as batting averages makes sense, if we keep in mind that going above the Mendoza Line in a season puts you on track for a Hall of Fame career in women's golf and that the career batting averages are even lower in men's (with one glaring exception).

The list of .300 hitters in an LPGA season, for instance, is pretty short:

1. Babe Zaharias (1952), 5: .625, .238
2. Babe Zaharias (1950), 6: .600, .429
3. Lorena Ochoa (2008), 6: .600, .400
4. Mickey Wright (1961), 10: .588, .417
5. Louise Suggs (1952), 6: .545, .286
6. Betsy Rawls (1952), 6: .500, .286
7. Babe Zaharias (1951), 7: .500, .500
8. Annika Sorenstam (2005), 10: .500, .303
9. Annika Sorenstam (2002), 11: .478, .314
10. Mickey Wright (1963), 13: .464, .382
11. Annika Sorenstam (2004), 8: .444, .242
12. Louise Suggs (1953), 8: .421, .242
13. Nancy Lopez (1979), 8: .421, .210
14. Mickey Wright (1964), 11: .407, .333
15. Betsy Rawls (1959), 10: .385, .385
16. Marlene Hagge (1956), 8: .348, .308
17. Nancy Lopez (1978), 9: .346, .243
18. Kathy Whitworth (1968), 10: .333, .294
19. Lorena Ochoa (2007), 8: .320, .229
20. Mickey Wright (1966), 7: .318, .189
21. Karrie Webb (2000), 7: .318, .171
22. Mickey Wright (1962), 10: .313, .313 [Note: her bio sheet has her playing 33 events but the LPGA's official wins page says there were only 32 events that season on tour; I'm going with the latter.]
23. Carol Mann (1968), 10: .313, .294

I'll look at career winning percentages of Zaharias, Wright, Sorenstam, and other candidates for the LPGA's MDP in a later post.

Contention Percentage: Jack Nicklaus is almost as famous for his near-misses in majors as for his victories, with good reason. What this stat ideally would track is the rate at which a player gives himself or herself a chance to win on the back 9 of the final round, rather than mechanically tallying top 3 finishes. Shall we say anyone within 3 shots of the 63-hole (or 45-hole in a 54-hole event) leader or who gets within a stroke of the eventual winner before the 72nd (or 53rd) hole is in contention? That's the definition I offered when commenting on Hound Dog's recent post analyzing who has a realistic chance of winning on the LPGA Tour from week to week.

This is my favorite stat but I'd need a grant to actually track it! Doing so would allow me to track how often a player wins when in contention, which is also worth taking into account when awarding the MDP.

Top 3/Top 10/Top 20/Made Cut Percentages: Combined with the other stats, these allow you to gauge relative strengths of fields over a player's career; how high a great player can finish without his or her A-game is not just a mark of his or her greatness, after all.

So let's put some of these figures together, minus the "in contention" one, and count only the seasons in which recent candidates for MDP were official LPGA members:

Seon Hwa Lee, the top player so far in the class of 2006, hasn't won a major, has 3 wins (.042), 8 top 3s (.111), 20 top 10s (.278), 39 top 20s (.542), and 68 made cuts (.944) in 72 starts.

Paula Creamer, the most dominant player of the class of 2005, hasn't won a major, has 6 wins (.068), 21 top 3s (.239), 43 top 10s (.489), 65 top 20s (.739), and 85 made cuts (.966) in 88 starts.

Lorena Ochoa, the best of the class of 2003 (and most other classes in LPGA history!), has won 2 majors (.077 [in career starts in majors]), has 23 wins (.177), 54 top 3s (.415), 96 top 10s (.738), 116 top 20s (.892), and 130 made cuts (.970) in 134 starts.

Feel free to crunch these numbers for other players between now and when I release the sequel to this week's post!

No comments: