A Brief Review of the Boston Red Sox Season

Well the 2017 season ended yesterday afternoon for my Boston Red Sox as we lost 5–4 to the Houston Astros and they took Game 4 of the ALDS. So this morning we will surely see the critiques and hot takes on what to do to improve the team begin to make the internet rounds.

But before we get into all of that, I wanted to take a look at the 2017 season from a data perspective. At least, the regular season. After all, we can see how Sale in Game 1 and Kimbrel in Game 4 just had poorly timed bad days. But what about the other 162 games? After all, we will need to win a lot of them if we want to make it back to the playoffs in 2018.

I just pulled a couple quick stats from Baseball Reference. Now we can quibble about which stats are best another time, but from my experience the more sabremetric datapoints are lost on a general audience. So here we are using OPS, basically a hitter’s average combined with his power/slugging ability, and ERA, the amount of runs a pitcher can be expected to allow every nine innings. I also threw in defensive runs saved above average, i.e. is the player saving more runs than an average player.

You can read the graphic for the details, but the takeaway is that Boston, we need not panic. The 2017 Red Sox were a good team. Far from perfect—here is looking at you lack of middle-of-the-order power—but a solid lineup, good rotation, good defence, and a fantastic bullpen. How can we add without subtracting too much?

Overall, not a bad team
Overall, not a bad team

2-point Conversions

I rarely watch American football. But I do like charts about it. So today’s post looks at a piece from Benjamin Morris who explored the scenarios in which a team should opt for the two-point conversion. For those of you who know even less about American football, you can attempt such a conversion after your team scores a touchdown. More often than not your team will go for the far safer and more assured one-point conversion, which if made makes a touchdown of seven points.

It turns out that teams should probably be looking for those two points a wee bit more often than they presently do. And to help teams figure that out, Morris made a small multiple chart looking at many different scenarios.

When to do it
When to do it

Credit for the piece goes to Benjamin Morris.

The Best Rivalry Is Back

But to be honest, it never really went anywhere. As you know, your humble author visited Boston this past weekend and got to see two games of his Red Sox against Tampa Bay. Tampa, of course, is not the rivalry to which I am referring, but things were heated back in the days when Maddon managed Tampa.

No, I am of course talking about the Red Sox–Yankees rivalry. Two weeks ago FiveThirtyEight posted an article about the rivalry and how it has returned. Admittedly, they meant not from the perspective of bitter hatred for all things Yankees, but rather that the Yankees are attempting to be good again.

This chart from the article is nothing more than a line chart. But I just wanted to point out that the rivalry lives, though in my mind it never really went away.

Down with the Empire…
Down with the Empire…

Credit for the piece goes to the FiveThirtyEight graphics department.

Colin Kaepernick

Colin Kaepernick is a contentious figure in American football because of the protests he started against the US national anthem. While other protesting players remain on teams and play, Kaepernick remains unsigned despite what some say is a talent above other players. And as the American football season just began, this article from the Washington Post caught my attention.

Some of the arguments I have seen for Kaepernick’s unsigned status allege he just is not very good. But is that so? What does the data show? Well thankfully the Post dived into that and is running what we can best call a Kaepernick tracker comparing him to qualified quarterbacks in the NFL.

Clearly better than a host of other quarterbacks
Clearly better than a host of other quarterbacks

It turns out, he is a middle-of-the-pack quarterback, demonstrably better than half-a-dozen and sitting solidly amongst an almost third-tier or cluster of players. The data clearly shows that poor performance is not the reason for remaining unsigned, otherwise he would have replaced any number of quarterbacks. True, it could come down to his dollar cost, but most likely his remaining unsigned, compared to almost a dozen players underperforming him, is related to his protests.

Now from the design standpoint, I also wanted to call attention to this article because of the way it handles definitions. The article uses the statistic adjusted net yards per attempt to assess performance. But what does that actually mean? Well, in the digital margins of the piece, the designers include an explanation of that statistic. I thought this was a really well-done part of the article, not interrupting the main narrative flow for a definition that a portion of the audience probably knows. But the more casual followers or people more interested in the political nature of the story would have no idea, and this does a great job of explaining it to us laymen.

What does it all mean?
What does it all mean?

Credit for the piece goes to Reuben Fischer-Baum, Neil Greenberg, and Mike Hume.

The NFL Draft Comes to Philadelphia

The joke I have been telling everyone in person this past week: I changed jobs and moved 750 miles from Chicago to Philadelphia, but I still cannot escape the NFL Draft. The two previous drafts occurred across the street from my last job and this year they are three blocks away from my new flat. Traffic is a bloody nightmare. So while there is a lot of news to cover through data visualisation and design, the local story is the NFL Draft that begins tonight next to the Rocky statue and in front of the Art Museum. We will return to trade wars with Canada, tax cuts for the rich, North Korea, climate change, and other things over the next few weeks.

Today’s piece comes from the Washington Post and looks at NFL Draft success across the NFL. Unfortunately for all of you, I know almost nothing about the NFL except Free Tom Brady. (I have to transfer my Red Sox allegiance somewhere, right?) But this set of small multiples looks fantastic and generally tells me that the Colts and Packers—the latter likely to the chagrin of my Chicago-born followers—have historically done well.

While I fail to understand the references/anecdotes, the grid looks nice…
While I fail to understand the references/anecdotes, the grid looks nice…

Aesthetically, I am not sure about the handwriting typeface. I wonder: could the content have been handled better by a more traditional face?

Credit for the piece goes to Reuben Fischer-Baum.

Andy Murray

A changeup from the political coverage, here we have sportsball! And by sportsball I mean tennis, if you did not get that from today’s post title. Andy Murray won the ATP World Tour finals, and with it won the number one seed in tennis, displacing Novak Djokovic.

When Andy Murray surpassed Novak Djokovic
When Andy Murray surpassed Novak Djokovic

Nothing super fancy going on here, just a line chart. But, it does do a good job of showing how over the last year, the slow decline of Djokovic and the ascendance of Murray.

Credit for the piece goes to John Saeki.

Beating Ted Williams

Last week the Red Sox’s season came to an end after being swept by the Cleveland Indians and with the sweep so too ended David Ortiz’s career. He is one of the best Red Sox hitters of all time, but Ted Williams was the best. And so last week FiveThirtyEight ran a piece on how one manager from the Cleveland Indians—hence the relevance, right?—beat Ted Williams by “inventing” what we all know in baseball as the shift.

The below photo comes from the game and shows what we baseball fans now think of as routine was at the time almost brand new. (Although to be fair, the shift in this case left only one fielder on the left side of the field—the left fielder. Typically today both the shortstop and left fielder both remain.) Anyway, for those baseball fans, the article is worth a quick read.

Who's on first? Not Ted Williams after his at bat.
Who’s on first? Not Ted Williams after his at bat.

Credit for the piece goes to an unknown photographer ca. 1946.

Road to Victory

Among my recent life changes, I have moved back to Philadelphia from Chicago. That means Sundays the bars and streets are full of people wearing the jerseys of their favourite Eagles (American) football players. And apparently this year, they are off to a good start. FiveThirtyEight took a look at other 3-0 teams to compare the 2016 Eagles and examine their chances for the playoffs.

Comparing the Eagles offense and defence
Comparing the Eagles offense and defence

Credit for the piece goes to Chase Stuart.

UK Performance at the Olympics

The Olympics are over and Team GB did rather well, coming in second in the medals table with 27 gold medals, more than they won back in 2012 when they hosted the Olympics. (See my piece four years ago where a colleague of mine and I accurately predicted the UK’s total medal count.)

Consequently the BBC put together an article with several data-driven graphics exploring the performance and underpinnings of Team GB. This screenshot captures a ranking chart that generally works well.

How the Olympics rankings have changed over the years
How the Olympics rankings have changed over the years

However, the use of the numbers within the dots is redundant and distracting. A better decision would have been to label the lines and let the eye follow the movement of the lines. A good decision, however, was to label the grey lines for those countries entering and falling out of the Top-5.

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

Pill Popping Power

But not likely. As this FiveThirtyEight piece explains, steroids are not likely the cause of the increased power exhibited this year by Major League Baseball. The article goes into a bit of detail, but this set of small multiples does a nice job comparing several other factors that could be at play.

How different factors increased power or not
How different factors increased power or not

What I like about the piece is how each line chart is centred on the year where the factor came into play. And then to the right and left are ten years before and after. Maybe a little bit more could have been done to highlight the differing years—I admit that I missed that at first—but the concept itself is solid.

Credit for the piece goes to the FiveThirtyEight graphics department.