I’m a stat nerd.
If you are assuming baseball is my favorite sport because I’m a stat nerd, you’re right.
So, when people try and tell me Ivan Nova was a great pitcher last year because he had 16 wins in only 28 starts, I point to the 8.82 amount of runs the Yankees scored for him per game (second-most in baseball) and say think again.
When people try and tell me Joe Saunders was an effective pitcher in 2011 because of a solid ERA, I point out the facts that his FIP (4.78) was 1.08 points higher than his ERA (3.69), his strikeouts per nine innings was an atrocious 4.58, his swinging strike rate was a laughable 6.2 percent, and prove to you he isn’t good.
If you don’t know what any of those statistics mean and have some free time…well, a lot of free time, you should Google “sabermetrics” and do some reading. Baseball has hundreds of sabermetrics — advanced, often-algorithmic stats that tell you how good a player is much more accurately than batting average and ERA.
So, throughout the course of this Lady Lions’ season, I’ve found myself wishing that college basketball bookkeepers kept similar stats. Like ERA, a statistic that heavily depends on the ability of a pitcher’s fielders and other luck-based variables, something like rebounds per game is very influenced by the average height of your opposition and amount of minutes spent on the court.
A few popular, easy-to-calculate basketball sabermetrics are Pythagorean record, effective field goal percentage, and points per minute.
I stayed up really late one night and applied those stats to some Lady Lions to display the effectiveness of what I like to call “real stats.”
Here’s what I found.
1. Pythagorean Record
This one was invented by the father of sabermetrics himself, Bill James. It isn’t a perfect stat, but definitely a sensible one. The formula takes how many points a team has scored and allowed to develop a record that is a bit more luck-free than a team’s real record.
Think about it: It’s entirely plausible that a team could be first in points scored and points allowed and not have the best record because of bad breaks in certain games.
Daryl Morey adapted it to basketball, and came up this formula.
A Win = (Points scored ^ 13.91) / (Points scored ^ 13.91 + Points allowed ^ 13.91)
Don’t ask me how Morey came up with these numbers; the guy is probably a genius. Still, the basic idea holds that if a team is scoring a lot and not letting their opponents score much, they should be really good.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking all year that the Lady Lions (20-5) have been getting bad breaks, and I was very right. According to Pythagoras, the Lady Lions should have a Big Ten-best .959 winning percentage. That would give them a record of about 24-1, second-best in the entire NCAA.
On the other hand, take a team like Northwestern. Though they sport a 13-12 record, they’ve been aggregately outscored by their opponents this season. The Pythagorean formula tells us their record should actually be a measly 9-15.
Real wins and losses are obviously all that matters, but if you’ve scored fewer points than your opponents in a season and still have a record above .500, you should probably never take that four-leaf clover out of your pocket.
2. Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%)
This statistic makes a lot of basic sense. It takes into account the fact that 3-pointers are worth more than 2-pointers, and weights a player’s field goal percentage accordingly.
For instance, say a player goes 6-for-6 for a game, having made exclusively layups for 12 points. During the same game, another player goes 3-for-6, having made exclusively 3-pointers, also for 12 points. The first player has a field goal percentage of 100 percent, while the second stands at 50 percent. However, they were equally efficient scoring-wise, both having made 12 points.
Therefore, eFG% attempts to rate the shots equally and is found using the following formula:
[Field Goals Made + (.5 * 3-Pointers Made)] / Field Goals Attempted
Let’s apply that formula to the Lady Lions. Keep in mind that, as a rule of thumb, eFG% is higher than FG% if a player has even made one 3-pointer.
Currently, sharpshooting three-baller Maggie Lucas has an already-impressive .447 field goal percentage. She’s made 155 of 347 shots. From 3-point land, the sophomore has gone 61-for-146. When you plug those numbers into the formula, her eFG% is a very impressive .535. That’s an excellent number, one that would put her in 11th place in the NBA.
On the other hand, let’s consider forward Ariel Edwards. Edwards has been a good jump shooter this year, going 65-for-151 from the floor for a .430 percentage. However, she’s floundered from 3-point range, making only 5-of-22 deep balls. Her eFG%, therefore, is only .447. By comparison, that number would place her 72nd in the NBA. Not bad, but certainly no Maggie Lucas.
Of course, this formula does not address the issue that a player who misses three 3-point shots is potentially giving the opponent three extra possessions. Still, eFG% is important to consider when you think a player is shooting 3’s willy-nilly.
3. Points Per Minute (PPM)
Yeah, it’s exactly what it sounds like. It also makes much, much more sense than points per game.
Take the case of Penn State forward Mia Nickson. She has scored 6.9 points per game this season in 16 games.
However, when Penn State played Indiana at home this year, Nickson only managed ten minutes on the court due to injury concerns. When Penn State played at Michigan, she could only stay on the court for 4 four minutes for the same reason. Against Illinois on the road, Nickson only played 2 minutes.
Do you see the problem? In those 3 games, the junior scored one, zero, and zero points, respectively. Still, each one of those appearances counts for an entire game.
Obviously, the fairer way to determine point efficiency is discovering how many points a player has scored per minute than per game.
Here’s the formula:
(Points Scored / Minutes Played) * 40
Since there are 40 minutes in a college basketball game, multiplying the points per minute by 40 is the only way to make the statistic applicable.
Nickson’s points per minute is 11.5, a far cry from the 6.9 PPG she has averaged.
This stat also helps bench players. Freshman Tori Waldner averages only 2.5 points per game because she also averages only 9.8 minutes per game. Her points per minute number is 10.3.
In my opinion, basketball should seriously consider using points per minute as opposed to points per game. It’s simply way more indicative of a player’s scoring efficiency.
There you have it. Sabermetrics are an always-interesting way to approach things. If you have a TI-84 lying around somewhere, have some fun with these.