Thursday, November 15, 2012

Aircraft Carriers, Adjustments and Arbitration

Last Sunday, Syracuse faced San Diego State aboard the USS Midway in San Diego Harbor. The wind made shots beyond a few feet an adventure. One baseline jumper by Syracuse forward C.J. Fair seemed to blow two feet off course and wound up an air ball.

The shooting percentages were low for both sides, but especially dismal for the Aztecs. They made just one three-pointer in 18 attempts and shot 27 percent overall. At the foul line, they sank 42.4 percent. Broadcasters Dick Enberg and Steve Kerr commented frequently about the conditions, at one time saying the players probably wish these stats wouldn’t count in their season numbers.

While the statistics need to count, we can make adjustments for the context. Other teams have played on ships. Using those averages to adjust actual statistics provide a better indication of how well the teams and players performed. Of course, it’s only one game and won’t impact final season numbers very much.

Baseball players on teams with extreme venues like Safeco Field and Coors Field aren’t so lucky. They play 81 games in settings that have a huge impact on their statistics. While the Aztecs and Orange escaped the aircraft carrier after one game, Mariners hitters and Rockies pitchers have no such opportunity. The altitude never changes in Denver, and neither does its effect on statistics.

Fortunately, in baseball arbitration and free agency, we can make adjustments for context, but it’s not always simple. Just as the outside shooters struggled more than big men aboard the ship, ballparks affect different players in different ways. Left-handed power hitters in Minute Maid Park make a great example. Since the stadium debuted in 2000, there have been 28 20-home run seasons by Astros’ right-handed batters, just one by a lefty hitter.

Extreme environments call attention to the need for adjustments. However, we need them for less obvious conditions as well, not just for basketball games aboard aircraft carriers.

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