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Sam Ficken and the Danger of Small Sample Sizes

On Saturday, September 8, 2012, Penn State football player Sam Ficken had a kicker’s worst nightmare. Playing against Virginia, he missed 4 field goals, including the potential game-winner as the game ended. To add injury to insult, he also had an extra point blocked.

Penn State lost the game by a single point.

At that point in his career, Ficken had made 2 out of his 7 field goal attempts. That equals about a 29% success rate, which is terrible for kickers. Many called for Ficken to be benched. He was harassed on Twitter (to put it mildly). And a Penn State soccer player even made a YouTube...

Kickoffs into the End Zone: To Return, or Not to Return?

In the world of Six Sigma, we’re always looking to improve our process. Whether it’s increasing the strength of building materials or improving the way calls are processed in a call center, it’s always a good idea to use a data-driven analysis to determine the best solution to your process.

The same is true for the NFL. Two years ago, the NFL decided to move kickoffs up from the 30 yard line to the 35. This has resulted in more kicks traveling into the end zone. So NFL coaches have a decision to make on their kick return process:

  • Should I have my player take a knee whenever he catches the ball...

How much do different scoring systems affect fantasy football rankings?

Ever start a fantasy football draft and realize that passing touchdowns are worth 6 points, not 4? Or how about realizing at the last minute that the commissioner of your league decided to have a point per reception (PPR) league. We know that this year running backs are going to be going early in the draft. But if your league is a PPR or gives 6 points for a passing touchdown, should you be focusing on quarterbacks and receivers instead?

Sounds like a perfect question for a data analysis in a statistical software package like Minitab!

Getting Six Points for Passing Touchdowns

My first reaction to...

Finding Value in Your Fantasy Football Draft

When it comes to fantasy football, there is a common statistical term that comes up again and again. It’s "variation."

From season to season, week to week, and even quarter to quarter, NFL players can be very inconsistent. This can make selecting your fantasy team as much about luck as it is about skill. Nobody has a crystal ball that reveals who will be fantasy sleepers and fantasy busts in the upcoming season. And even if they did, they’d be keeping it to themselves and making millions in Vegas rather than writing about it on the Internet. (Can you make millions off of fantasy football in...

How Do Elite Fantasy Football Players Perform a Year Later? Part 2

Last week I used Minitab's paired t test to compare how quarterbacks and running backs performed the season after finishing in the top 3 in fantasy points. Quarterbacks did not perform significantly worse, while running backs scored about 80 fewer points and finished ranked 8.7 spots lower than their top 3 year. Now it's time to move on to wide receivers and tight ends. Will they follow suit and perform the same, like quarterbacks? Or will their top 3 season turn out to be just an outlier that they're unlikely to repeat, like running backs?

Wide Receivers

Much like running backs, it’s hard for...

How Do Elite Fantasy Football Players Perform a Year Later? Part 1

In 2006, LaDainian Tomlinson set an NFL record by scoring 28 rushing touchdowns. The next year he had about half of that, only scoring 15. In 2011, Calvin Johnson caught a ridiculous 11 touchdown passes in the first 8 games of the season. In his next 24 regular season games, he caught 10. In 2007 Tom Brady set an NFL record with 50 touchdown passes. In each of the 5 seasons after that, he hasn't broken 40. 

The point being that it is really hard to continuously play football at an elite level. Sooner or later you’re going to come down to Earth. Last season Calvin Johnson set the...

Is this the Year the Pittsburgh Pirates Snap the Streak, or is the Collapse Imminent?

We’re 93 games into the Major League Baseball regular season, and for the 3rd year in a row the Pittsburgh Pirates have a winning record. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh fans, the previous two seasons have ended with collapses, making the Pirates the first professional sports team to have 20 consecutive losing seasons. Optimists say 2013 is finally the year they snap the streak, while pessimists see another collapse coming. So which is it going to be?

I’m going to use Minitab Statistical Software to analyze the statistics from the previous two seasons, and then see how they compare to this year.

A...

LeBron vs. Jordan: Is There a Comparison Yet?

LeBron James has just captured his 2nd NBA Championship in as many years, and has secured himself a place as one of the greatest basketball players of all time. And he even did so by overcoming the “Winner of Game 3 wins the series 92% of the time” odds.

With the victory, there is a 99% chance the “LeBron is a choker and can’t win the big one” narrative is dead and gone (I say 99% because I’ll never underestimate the ability of Skip Bayless to find a new way to beat a dead horse). But that means that there is another narrative that is going to start being thrown around.

Is LeBron James better...

The Lottery, the Casino, or the Sportsbook: Who Came Out Ahead?

Have you heard about the Tennessee man who has 22 children to 17 different women? He was interviewed the other day, and when asked how he supports all his kids he was quoted as saying:

"I'm just hoping one day I'll get lucky and might scratch off the numbers or something. I play the hell out of the Tennessee lottery."

Well, what would it look like if a person really did play "the hell" out of the lottery? Say you spent a year buying one $10 scratch-off ticket each day. How likely would you be to come out ahead? And for that matter, how would the lottery compare to making a $10 sports bet or a...

The Lottery, the Casino, or the Sportsbook: Simulating Each Bet in Minitab

I previously started looking into which method of gambling was your best bet: a NFL bet, a number on a roulette wheel, or a scratch-off lottery ticket. After calculating the expect value for each one, I found out that the NFL bet and roulette bet were similar, as each had an expected value close to -$0.50 on a $10 bet. The scratch-off ticket was much worse, having an expected value of -$2.78.

But I want see how each of these games could play out in real life. After all, it is possible for people to come out ahead playing each game. So I planned to take 300 people, split them into 3 groups (one...

The Lottery, the Casino, or the Sportsbook: What’s Your Best Bet?

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is currently in a battle with sports leagues over the issue of allowing sports betting at casinos in Atlantic City and horse racing tracks across the state. If he wins and sports betting becomes legal in New Jersey, it will open the door for other states to follow suit. It appears there is a long way to go before this form of gambling spreads across the country.

But is sports betting really so much worse than casinos (which are legal in just under half of all U.S. states) or the lottery (which is legal in almost every U.S. state)?  For the purposes of this...

The Curious (Statistical) Case of Marc-Andre Fleury

The Pittsburgh Penguins are in the midst of another Stanley Cup playoff run. With a 3-1 lead over the Ottawa Senators, they are a mere 1 game away from their 3rd Eastern Conference Final in 6 years. But it looks like they will do so without starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

After a string of disappointing playoff games, Fleury has been benched and netminder Tomas Vokoun has been guarding the goal. And Vokoun is playing so well that it doesn’t look like Fleury will see the ice anytime soon.

So what does this have to do with statistics? Well, Fleury’s statistics tell the story of why he is on...

Which Big Ten Division is Better?

After another round of what seems like endless conference realignment, the Big Ten has settled on 14 teams split into two divisions; East and West. However, with the likes of Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, and Michigan State, the East division appears to be much stronger. In fact, Indiana athletic director Fred Glass called it the “Big Boy Division,” and Penn State coach Bill O’Brien referred to it as “Murderers' Row.”

But will the statistics back up their claims? After all, it’s easy to spout off any opinion you want. I could claim that the Sun Belt is a better football conference than the...

The Top 10 (Statistically) Craziest Things that Happened in the 2013 NCAA Tournament

In my previous blog post, I analyzed the madness in this year’s NCAA tournament for games through the Sweet 16. I found that it was one of the wackiest Sweet 16s ever. But things didn’t stop there—the Final Four was pretty crazy, too, having two 4 seeds and a 9 seed! So now that the tournament is over, I want to look back and see what were (statistically speaking) the most unlikely things to have occurred. Was it Florida Gulf Coast in the Sweet 16? Or Wichita State in the Final Four? What about Wisconsin’s horrible shooting performance? Let’s start analyzing the statistics to find out.

All...

The Glass Slipper Story: Analyzing the Madness in the 2013 NCAA Tournament

Cinderella showed up early and often during the first weekend of the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Florida Gulf Coast stole the show with their glass slippers, becoming the first ever 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16. But don’t let that overshadow what happened in the West Region: Wichita St and La Salle both arrived in a pumpkin-turned-carriage, and now the Shockers are a game away from the Final Four! And don’t forget about Harvard just because the clock struck midnight on them first. They were at the ball, too! Madness indeed.

In the world of statistics, we have another word for this “madness.” It’s...

Predicting the 2013 NCAA Tournament with Minitab

Did everybody have a good Selection Sunday? Hopefully you did, and now you’re ready to jump into the brackets. And just like last year, Minitab is here to help you along! But first we have to wait for EPSN to stop yelling about who the  68th best team in the country is. I mean, honestly, you think they would have learned their lesson two years ago when they were adamant about what a travesty it was that VCU got an at-large bid. You know, the same VCU team that then went to the final four. Maybe next year Virginia should try not losing to Delaware at home. Oh, what’s that? Dick Vitale finally...

Using Minitab to Choose the Best Ranking System in College Basketball

Life is full of choices. Some are simple, such as what shirt to put on in the morning (although if you’re like me, it’s not so much of a “choice” as it is throwing on the first thing you grab out of the closet). And some choices are more complex. In the quality world, you might have to determine which distribution to choose for your capability analysis or which factor levels to use to bake the best cookie in a design of experiments. But all of these choices pale in comparison* to the most important decision you have to make each year: which college basketball teams to pick during March...

Basketball Statistics Question: How Important Is a Team's "Momentum" Heading into the NCAA Tournament?

It’s March, which means it’s the time of year when the country's sports fans focus their gaze upon college basketball. And since there are still a few weeks until the brackets come out, people will be trying to determine which teams are poised for a deep run in the tournament. One of the criteria people use to determine a team's potential is “momentum.” Everybody says you want your team to be “peaking at the right time.” But is this really important? We just saw the Baltimore Ravens win the Super Bowl despite losing 4 of their final 5 regular-season games.

So how important is it for NCAA...

Is This the Craziest College Basketball Season Ever?

The last few weeks have been pretty crazy in college basketball. In the first 13 days of February, nine different teams ranked in the Top 10 have lost. And had Duke not squeaked by Boston College last Sunday, it would have been the first time since 1992 that every team ranked in the AP Top 5 had lost in a single week. 

All of this has led to analysts saying that the parity in college basketball is greater than it’s ever been. And while it might seem that way, it’s always best to perform a data analysis to confirm whether your claims are true. Have there really been more Top 10 upsets this year...

Parity in the NFL? Nope! It’s the Sample Size!

It's almost Super Bowl Sunday, and this year’s matchup pits the Baltimore Ravens against the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers are no huge surprise, as they were favored in both of their playoff games. However the Ravens had to win 3 games, pulling two major upsets along the way, to get to the Super Bowl. It marks the 8th time in the last 10 years that a team that played on Wild Card Weekend advanced the entire way to the Super Bowl. This again shows how much parity there is in the NFL. It’s unpredictable! Any team can win the championship!

Well...not quite. While I agree that the NFL playoffsare...