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Posted on 11 February 2015 by Luke Jones
The spat between Hall of Famer and TNT analyst Charles Barkley and Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is just the latest example in the battle continuing to be fought across multiple sports.
The “old school” way of thinking versus statistical analysis.
Never mind that the mindsets aren’t mutually exclusive, you better choose one or the other in this fight!
Despite being a self-proclaimed baseball nerd — we’ll use that sport for our example — I’ve always maintained it’s up to the individual to decide how dedicated and in depth he or she wants to be as a fan. After all, we’re talking about sports and not matters of national security.
It’s supposed to be fun.
Embracing sabermetrics to adapt how I study the game in recent years hasn’t swayed my enjoyment in watching a perfectly-executed relay or a game-tying home run in the bottom of the eighth inning. Finding new ways to educate yourself about the game isn’t a mandate — however, it should be for those who work in the game and want to remain relevant — but it’s silly to criticize simply because we may not understand or be interested.
Admittedly, statistical analysis is heavy as it can quickly start to feel like a calculus lesson instead of a baseball discussion. With many of these advanced stats — OPS-plus, FIP, UZR, and WAR just to name a few — I’ve developed a functional understanding of what they mean and how to apply them without wasting brainpower remembering how to calculate them. It’s akin to enjoying the steak without dwelling on how it’s prepared at the butcher shop.
For anyone not convinced of the value of sabermetrics — but will at least humor me — I typically present three questions:
1. Would you rather have a .300 hitter or a .260 hitter?
Many — not all — traditional fans will go with the .300 hitter, which has long been viewed as a benchmark for greatness, but how much does batting average really tell us?
In this case, the .300 hitter could also be a free swinger who doesn’t walk often and hits for very little power. In contrast, let’s pretend the .260 hitter clubbed 60 extra-base hits and walked 80 times over the course of the season. Under such a scenario, the .260 hitter is likely to be the far superior option without getting into their value on the bases or in the field.
This is why on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) is embraced while batting average is being thrown aside by many statheads as a limited piece of information. If you want to take it a step further, OPS-plus takes into account how a hitter’s home ballpark — think of a pitcher’s park in Oakland compared to a hitter’s park — impacted his performance and allows for better comparison among players across the league.
2. Do you want a pitcher with a 3.70 ERA last year or one who had a 4.00 mark?
Again, many purists will point to the hurler with the lower ERA and be right in most cases, but is it always that simple?
What about the defense he played with in comparison to the group that was behind the other pitcher? What if one was really lucky or had great misfortune over a number of starts?
Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) is complicated to calculate, but it uses the outcomes a pitcher solely controls (strikeouts, walks, hit by pitch, and home runs) to produce a value on the same scale as ERA. Its intent is to eliminate factors such as defense and bloop hits in trying to assess a pitcher’s effectiveness and to help predict his future performance.
As an example, the 2014 Orioles ranked seventh in the majors in team ERA (3.44), but they ranked 24th in team FIP (3.96). It reflects just how much Orioles pitching benefited from the exceptional defense behind it — which confirms what many purists witnessed with their own eyes, mind you — and how it would likely fare with an average defense.
3. Would you prefer the shortstop who made six errors or the one who made 12 last season?
This question is a good one as baseball fans have long been prisoners to a lack of data to truly assess defense. Hypothetically, a player could stand in one spot on the field all year and not commit an error, but that would make him quite poor defensively, wouldn’t it?
Sabermetrics are ever evolving when it comes to measuring defense, but numbers such as Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) are finally accounting for how much ground a player covers in the field. The measures aren’t perfect as there is fluctuation from year to year, but we’ve taken giant leaps from the days of simply quoting the number of errors, putouts, and assists a player collects.
To answer the above question, we need to know how the first player’s range compares to the second shortstop. If the latter gets to many more balls in the hole and up the middle, it’s logical to conclude he’s likely to commit more errors, but how many more outs will he also have created in the process?
Of course, the three above questions only scratch the surface of what’s out there in baseball.
Statistical analysis is about accounting for variables and answering questions. There isn’t one fancy statistic that should be viewed as gospel — or a number to which you become a “prisoner” in Orioles manager Buck Showalter’s words — in the same way that no person’s gut feeling or eyeball test is foolproof, either. Computers and numbers don’t play the games on the field, but they can tell us more about what’s happening and what is likely to happen next.
It’s possible to appreciate the human element as well as what the numbers say. In fact, we might even find that a statistic will confirm a gut feeling or an observation.
If more statheads were willing to explain their rationale and more traditionalists were open to learning, we wouldn’t have the embarrassing exchanges like we saw this week between an NBA general manager and one of the great players in league history.
There’s a place for both statistical analysis and traditional evaluation if we’re willing to embrace both.
And you don’t have to be a rocket scientist or a Hall of Famer to do it.
Posted on 05 December 2014 by WNST Trips
We’re trying to get more aggressive and do even more WNST trips to Wizards games in D.C. than usual this season but can only do these trips based on demand. If you love the Wizards and the NBA and don’t like the drive before and after games, our trips have an eight-year track record of being easy, fun and affordable. We appreciate you supporting all that we’re doing to grow the hoops community in Baltimore. If you know of other NBA and Wizards fans in Baltimore, please help us spread the word and fill some buses with hoops fans.
All aboard another Jerry’s Collision Center Wizards Bus to D.C. as Washington takes on the New York Knicks at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 3, 2015. Our Gunther Motorcoach will depart from the White Marsh Mall at 4:30 p.m. with a pickup from Catonsville/UMBC I-95 Park N Ride (at Rt. 166) at 5 p.m. All tickets are upper level in the Verizon Center and include a limited supply of cold beer (for those 21-and-over) en route and snacks, soft drinks and fun videos and giveaways.
We will be able to accommodate larger groups upon request and always keep groups together.
We hope you join us for a night of hoops and fun aboard the Jerry’s Collision Center WNST Wizards Bus to D.C. Families and children are welcomed and encouraged to join us! It’s a great night out!
Your PayPal receipt is your ticket and we always throw you an email 48 hours before the game to confirm everything. All you need to do is purchase and we’ll see you at the bus. We bring the game tickets with us. Nice and easy!
If you have any questions, throw me a note: firstname.lastname@example.org
COST: $90 per person
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Posted on 18 November 2014 by WNST Staff
John Ourand joined Nestor to talk about the NBA and the Washington Wizards. With all of their young talent, they look to build off of an impressive season last year. Like the 2013-2014 season, they hope to make some noise in the Eastern Conference this year. LISTEN HERE.
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Posted on 13 August 2014 by WNST Staff
WIZARDS ANNOUNCE 2014-15 SCHEDULE