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The Sports Oscars

Posted by Jonah Gardner on February 25, 2016

Sunday night, I will be taking a brief break from sports to watch the Academy Awards. And while my favorite film of 2015, It Follows, won't be competing, there are plenty of excellent films to root for (and some very bad ones to root against).

As someone who loves both the Oscars and sports, I've been thinking about ways in which we can combine the two. Sure, there are the ESPYs, but those categories aren't exactly equivalent to the Academy Awards. So, I decided to make my own!

Using stats that you can find across all of the Sports-Reference sites, I've created the Sports Oscars, adapting (and, admittedly in some cases, stretching) categories that we'll see on Sunday to fit with sports teams. For our purposes, we'll be using the stats from the 2015 MLB season and 2015 NFL season, which are complete, as well as the 2015-16 NBA season and 2015-16 NHL season, still in progress. Unlike the actual Oscars, these awards are determined by stats, although I'm sure you'll still find plenty to argue with.

Don't worry, I won't subject you to my terrible singing voice in an elaborate musical number. Instead, let's get to the awards!

Best "Director" Nominees:

Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis Blues (NHL)

Dave Joerger, Memphis Grizzlies (NBA)

Joe Maddon, Chicago Cubs (MLB)

Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers (NFL)

Barry Trotz, Washington Capitals (NHL)

For this category, we'll be looking at pythagorean record, an advanced statistic that uses scoring differential to measure what a team's record should be. Once we know that, we can see the teams that are over-performing relative to what we'd expect. Baseball-Reference and Basketball-Reference have pythagorean record listed in tables; for hockey, I've calculated it using the formula by Kevin D. Dayaratna and Steven J. Miller, with the exponent in their formula set at 2. For football, I used the formula here, without adjusting for blowouts.

A team may outperform its expected record for a number of reasons, ranging from excellent performance in close games to simple good luck. However, one reason could be an excellent coach who helps the team find advantages on the margins to outperform the numbers. With that in mind, we'll be awarding Best Director to the coach whose team most outperformed the advanced numbers.

We can rule Maddon out right away. The Cubs won 4.3% more than their pythagorean record would predict, the best in MLB but middle of the road for the other sports.

The other four coaches all have strong cases. Rivera's is straightforward: his Panthers are 17.9% ahead of their pythagorean record, the best of any team. However, the Panthers were still in 1st place in the NFL by pythagorean record. In other words, that outperformance didn't make a huge difference to the Panthers' season. Trotz's argument is more or less the same as Rivera's. The Caps are 11.6% better than their pythagorean record, best in the NHL, but are #1 by either measure.

Hitchcock's Blues outperformed their pythagorean record by 11.4%, however, their expected record is just .523, which is 12th in the NHL and 6th in the West. Joerger is similar; his Grizzlies are 10.9% better than their expected record. The Grizzlies would be 8th in the West and locked in a battle to just clinch a playoff spot if they played to their pythagorean record.

Either would make a fine choice, but given where the Blues are in the NHL playoff picture -- fighting for the Western Conference's top seed, rather than a playoff spot -- I'd give Hitchcock the edge. That means that, after one award, we've already given more Best Director trophies to men named Hitchcock than the real Oscars.

The Sports Oscar goes to: Ken Hitchcock

Best "Visual Effects" Nominees:

Houston Astros (MLB)

Los Angeles Kings (NHL)

New York Giants (NFL)

Oklahoma City Thunder (NBA)

Philadelphia 76ers (NBA)

Starting from Bill James' Power/Speed Number in baseball, which measures the harmonic mean of HRs and SBs, I considered what things in the other sports are A.) awesome and B.) occurring with similar enough frequency to be a similar fit. For basketball, I ended up using blocks and dunks, for hockey, hits and shots, and, for football, TDs over 30 yards (offense and defense). For both sports, I scaled them down so the average team would equal the average 2015 MLB team's speed-power number of 111. I couldn't make it work for football, but I'm pretty happy with these nominees.

Like the actual Oscars, we end up with a mix of Revenants and Martians that are competing for the title, like the Warriors and Thunder, as well as a couple of Ex Machina-style solid crowd-pleasers, like the Astros and Giants. And it's appropriate that the category that made films like The Lone Ranger and Real Steel Oscar nominees would, in our awards, bestow the same honor on the Philadelphia 76ers.

By the numbers, this comes down to an extremely tight race between two nominees. The Thunder's (for lack of a better term) blunk score is 158.3, the best in the NBA. Their combination of athleticism, speed, and power gives them a slight edge over the 76ers, who finished with a 151.9. However, not only was the Astros' Power/Speed Number higher, 158.6, but they also blew away the competition. The 2nd place MLB team, the Billy Hamilton and Joey Votto-led Reds, had a 148.7.

And the Oscar goes to: The Houston Astros

Best "Screenplay" Nominees:

Arizona Cardinals (NFL)

Golden State Warriors (NBA)

San Antonio Spurs (NBA)

Toronto Blue Jays (MLB)

Washington Capitals (NHL)

The screenplay is the foundation of the movie, but the final results can vary wildly from what was on the page. In that spirit, our Best Screenplay award will award the highest rated teams according to SRS, a stat that uses scoring differential and strength of schedule to measure the strength of a team, independent of their W-L record.

For example, the Blue Jays led MLB in SRS at the MLB trade deadline, even though they were 6 games out of 1st place at the time. After the calendar turned to August, the Blue Jays went 40-18, playing up to their projected level of strength (and even a little better, thanks to the addition of David Price and Troy Tulowitzki) and winning the AL East, just like SRS predicted they would.

So, SRS is a good measure of team strength "on the page." However, since SRS is based on scoring, Toronto's SRS of 1.6 may seem like nothing compared to Arizona's 12.3, a difference accounted for by the fact that football teams score a lot more points than baseball teams do runs. That's why I came up with Z-Scores for each of the nominees to measure how much better the teams were, according to SRS, than the rest of their league.

As a result, we can eliminate the basketball teams right away. Not only does SRS have San Antonio and Golden State less than 0.5 away from each other, it actually gives the edge to the Spurs over the historic Warriors. Still, both teams had higher Z-scores than the Cardinals, who were not especially dominant this year.

The Blue Jays have a very strong case. Their SRS of 1.6 is the highest since the 2007 Boston Red Sox. However, their Z-Score of 2.4 trailed the Capitals. The Caps' Z-Score of 2.8 means they were nearly 3 standard deviations better than the average team in the 2015 NHL.

In other words, the Caps are A.) completely dominating the NHL in team strength stats like pythagorean record and SRS and B.) their on-ice performance is actually out-pacing those measures.

And the Oscar goes to: The Washington Capitals   

Best "Foreign Language Film" Nominees:

Fenerbahce Istanbul (Euroleague Basketball)

Fukuoka Softbank Hawks (Japan Pacific League)

Olympiakos (Greek Basket League)

Samsung Lions (Korean Baseball Organization)

Valencia Basket Club (Liga ACB Spanish Basketball)

If you've ever been to an Oscar party, you know there's 2 kinds of people there: the ones who go get another drink during the Foreign Language and Documentary categories and the ones who smugly tell you that Asghar Farhadi's A Separation is superior to any English-language nominee.

Since I'm one of the latter types, and since Baseball-Reference and Basketball-Reference cover Japanese, Korean, and Cuban baseball and European hoops, I wanted to give an award to some teams that don't play in North America.

On the baseball side, the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks finished with a .647 winning percentage, vs .611 for the Samsung Lions. The Hawks also won the Japan Series, while the Lions lost the Korean Series.

Meanwhile, in hoops, Valencia has gone 19-1 in Liga ACB, the Spanish basketball league. They lead FC Barcelona Lassa by 1 game, putting the club in pole position to win its first-ever Liga ACB championship. Meanwhile, in Greece, Panathinaikos is tied with Olympiakos at 19-1 and the two teams have split their season series 1-1. I gave the nod to Olympiakos because of their slight edge in point differential.

Then there's Istanbul, who are dominating in the Euroleague (thanks, in no small part, to former NBAers like Jan Vesely and Ekpe Udoh). In European basketball, much like European soccer, each nation has its own league and then the best teams from the those leagues meet in the Euroleague. In that best-of-the-best league, Istanbul have gone 15-2, posting the top record against the toughest competition in Europe.

However, since there's still more to play for in Euroleague, and since the Hawks ran the table with both Japan's best record and the championship trophy, they're our winners.

And the Oscar goes to: Fukuoka Softbank Hawks

Best "Actor" Nominees:

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (NBA)

Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers (MLB)

Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals (MLB)

Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks (NHL)

Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder (NBA)

For the baseball players, I'm using Wins Above Replacement, a stat that measures, in terms of wins added, how much a player produced as opposed to what a replacement-level player would have done in the same playing time. For basketball and hockey, I'm using Win Shares and Point Shares, an adaptation of the Win Shares stat that Bill James invented for baseball to show how many wins/points a player added for his team. Since separating individual performance from team performance in football is extremely tough, I'm leaving the NFL players out of the next two categories.

This race is extremely competitive. We can eliminate Westbrook, since he trails Curry by 2 Win Shares. Harper and Greinke were neck-and-neck for the WAR leader, with Harper coming in first by the narrowest of margins (both round to 9.9 Wins Above Replacement, if you count Greinke's WAR as a batter). Greinke led MLB in ERA and posted the best ERA+ since 2005.

However, fielding-independent pitching stats like FIP actually ranked Greinke more like 6th which may explain why he lost the 2015 NL Cy Young Award to Jake Arrieta. Harper, on the other hand, posted the best hitting season since 2004 Barry Bonds and was, by almost any old-school or new-fangled measure, the best hitter in MLB.

And yet, Harper can only finish 3rd. That's because Patrick Kane is in the midst of a historic season. According to Adjusted Points, which adjusts goals and assists to account for differences in scoring context, Kane is having the best season since 2000-01. He'd also be the first skater since 2007-08 to lead the NHL in Point Shares.

And all of that is only good enough for second. That's because, if you adjust Win Shares for minutes played, Stephen Curry is in the midst of the 2nd best season of all-time. And, unlike Leo in The Revenant, Steph is making it look easy and having fun while he's doing it.

And the Oscar goes to: Stephen Curry

Best "Supporting Actor" Nominees:

Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators (NHL)

Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks (NHL)

Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder (NBA)

DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers (NBA)

Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers (MLB)

Like the actual Oscars, where co-leads like Carol's Rooney Mara find themselves competing in the Supporting categories, there's some straight up category fraud here. However, we're defining "Supporting Actor" as the player with the 2nd most Win Shares, Point Shares, or WAR on their team.

With all due respect to Kershaw, Jordan, and Anderson, this is a two-man race. Corey Crawford is 2nd in the NHL in point shares; literally the only person he trails is his fellow Blackhawk Kane. Durant is in 3rd, behind Curry and Westbrook. Interestingly, according to WS/48, a stat that adjusts WS so it isn't affected by playing time, Durant is ahead of Westbrook.

KD and Russ would be the first teammates to finish in the Top 3 in WS since Michael Jordan and Horace Grant in 1991-92. That's even longer than the last time teammates finished 1 and 2 in Point Shares (Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr did it in 1995-96).

This is a close call, but since Durant feels more like a co-lead than a supporting performer, I'm giving the nod to Crawford.

And the Oscar goes to: Corey Crawford

Best "Picture" Nominees:

Denver Broncos (NFL)

Golden State Warriors (NBA)

Kansas City Royals (MLB)

San Antonio Spurs (NBA)

Washington Capitals (NHL)

SRS, as we talked in screenplay, would favor the Capitals. The Broncos and Royals are the only teams nominated to actually win their leagues. Advanced metrics, like Net Rating, say the Spurs may be the best team in the NBA.

But none of that matters. The Caps are very close to the pace for the most regular season NHL points ever, but the Warriors have been ahead of that pace all season. They may be the best shooting team ever and are a game ahead of where the 72-10 Bulls were at this point in the season. They also have a 36.4% probability of winning the NBA Finals, while the Capitals, due to the fact that the NHL playoffs tend to be more unpredictable, have a 18.5% chance of winning the Stanley Cup.

In a remarkable year for sports, with all kinds of records being set and broken, one team has loomed over everything.

And the Oscar goes to: The Golden State Warriors

This entry was posted on Thursday, February 25th, 2016 at 11:55 am and is filed under Announcement, Ridiculousness. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

2 Responses to “The Sports Oscars”

  1. […] Westbrook's famously reckless game is among the NBA's great aesthetic joys. However, after Durant's injury, Westbrook found a way to amp up the production without sanding down his edges. The result is that Westbrook has risen from supporting actor to lead. […]

  2. […] Westbrook’s famously reckless game is among the NBA’s great aesthetic joys. However, after Durant’s injury, Westbrook found a way to amp up the production without sanding down his edges. The result is that Westbrook has risen from supporting actor to lead. […]

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