World Cup 2014: Thumbs Up from Lukas Podolski, Instagram Star

Podolski Merkel selfie, World Cup 2014 Brazil, Instagram

German forward Lukas Podolski in a selfie with Angela Merkel at the 2014 World Cup (Credit: Lukas Podolski’s Instagram account)

I didn’t really know who Lukas Podolski was until some late night social media-ing. I now wish I would have paid more attention to the Polish-born forward because Lukas Podolski is an Instagram star.

I’ve probably watched him play dozens of times for Germany and Arsenal, although I didn’t really know who he was beyond hearing his name. To me, Podolski is another anonymous part of the Mannschaft, the intimidating nickname of the German national team. It just means “team”, but since it’s German, it hints at ruthless precision and metallurgy. You can probably replace him with another perfectly engineered possession-chewing fußballer, and the assembly line would still run.

Poldi is a delight on IG. He posts adorable selfies with his teammates, Portuguese love letters to Brazil (after the beat down, natch), and calls throwing a rugby ball like a quarterback “Training American style !”. Not to mention a selfie with Angela Merkel. (I’m sure they discussed central bank policy.) You win, Lukas, you win.

The most disturbing trend is what I’ve labeled “Hiked Up Shorts”, wherein he and his teammates pose together with their shorts pulled up so as to look to like tighty-whities (the shorts are black). Hilarious because they’re German and don’t have the American shame about letting it all hang out. Smart because it’s hot as hell in Brazil. Uncomfortable because it’s grown men hiking up their shorts to their crotches with their arms around each other.

His favorite pose is by far the “thumbs up.” He’s usually with a teammate or two, or with Ronaldinho, and he gives a big grin with a fist curled and the first digit pointing straight in the air for all the world to see. When I noticed this trend, I knew I had to break it down.

Lukas Podolski thumbs up World Cup 2014

Lukas Podolski’s favorite Instagram pose is by far the “thumbs up”

I’ve categorized all of his Instagrams since Germany commenced national team training on May 21, landed in Brazil for the World Cup on June 8, and up through July 12 at 9:30 central time, 30 hours before the final on July 13. By my count, he’s posted 99 photos. Seventeen have a thumbs up, 7 have a peace sign, and 6 are fists. There’s also some pointing involved, but I didn’t notice that before it was too late.

Lukas Podolski’s feed will definitely be a must see if the Mannschaft take out Argentina. There’ll be so many joyous selfies, hopefully with his shorts worn correctly.

Prediction: Germany 3 – Argentina 1

(Code and data located here.)

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World Cup 2014: At Least We Ran The Farthest

Well, at least the United States Men’s National Team ran the farthest. Even though the US couldn’t get past Belgium, the team ran 497km (an equivalent of 309 miles), the most of any country that made the Round of 16. Michael Bradley, the focus of much criticism in the group stage, actually hoofed it the most of any player: 54.7km over four games. Dude was working, even if he could’ve played better. (Jermaine Jones ran the the third most of any player through four: 47.6km; Dempsey, 14th most at 45.4km.)

US World Cup distance covered

If it’s any consolation, the US team ran the farthest through the first four games of the World Cup.

FIFA keeps track of the distance that each player covers (in kilometers) and updates it after each game. In addition to total distance covered, which is the above graph, they also have distance covered while in possession of the ball, distance while not in possession, and my favorite, top speed.

Our bald friend Bradley clocked in at 30.9 km/hour, which is really quick. The fastest guy has actually been Costa Rica’s Junior Diaz, who at 30-years-old got up to 33.8km/h at some point. (To put that in perspective, Usain Bolt averages around 37-38km/h.)

Top Speed Distribution by Country, World Cup 2014

Distribution of top speeds by country in the 2014 World Cup through the first four games

Looking at the team distribution of top speeds, the slow pokes that stick out are on Columbia (Faryd Mondragon, a goalie put in for only five minutes), Argentina (Enzo Perez, which is a mistake on FIFA’s web site because Perez hasn’t played a game yet), and Belgium’s goalie Octopus Arms Thibaut Courtois. Come on, goalies and guys mistakenly credited as actually playing, speed up!

All in all, the US earned its reputation as hard workers, as seen through the amount of territory they covered. They were running for their lives, fighting off attack after attack. In the end they came up short, but it was about as intense a series of games as I’ve ever seen.

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World Cup 2014: USMNT Roster Jitters

The US has finished its warm-up games and is now as ready as they’ll ever be for their first match against Ghana on June 16. Their schedule is brutal, and coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s roster choices hasn’t eased the worrying. Klinsmann has a history of taking an untested team to great success, but he also has flamed out. (Such is the life of a soccer coach.)

Looking at America’s World Cup rosters (like I did for Brazil), something is missing: the years, 1954-1986. The US didn’t qualify for the tournament the entire time the Berlin Wall was up. (COINCIDENCE???? Yeah, probably a coincidence.) After 1950, they didn’t qualify until 1990, and it wasn’t until 1994 that the national team garnered any type of discussion.

US World Cup Roster age

The 2014 team features a wide range of ages

The US men’s national team (USMNT) at the early World Cups were all over the place age-wise. The 1990 team was actually the youngest because the majority of that team was still in college or playing in semi-pro leagues. The current 2014 roster swings a bit older than 2010 despite Klinsmann making moves like cutting veteran Landon Donovan and keeping 19-year-old Julian Green. Since the modern era, each US team has had an average age of around 27 or 28.

Jurgen Klinsmann's roster choices - caps

This is one of America’s least experienced international teams, a consequence of the coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s roster choices.

This World Cup team is easily the least experienced based on the number of international appearances, known as caps. However, Klinsmann’s youth strategy in the above graph is continuing the trend of fewer caps than the previous World Cup. It’s just that the guys with the least amount of in-game experience this time around hardly have any international reps at all. Five of the twenty-three guys actually have 10 or fewer international games each under their belt. The aforementioned Julian Green only has one, and that was just to get him cap-tied. (Funny note: Klinsmann has recruited so many players that could either play for the US or another international team that US Soccer has seen fit to create an explainer about what “cap-tied” means.)

US World Cup Roster club country

A little more than half the American 2014 World Cup team play abroad for their professional careers

Finally, before the modern era of the USMNT, every American played for a domestic professional club at the time of the World Cup. These teams in the 1930s had some great names: Providence Gold Bugs, Cleveland Slavia, the Philadelphia German-Americans, and the Chicago Slovaks. Basically each World Cup team consisted of the best of the best from immigrant, blue collar pick up games based in manufacturing towns. I can see the smoke stacks towering over the lumpy fields now. The US soccer training system didn’t exist, and players didn’t have anywhere to go but next to the steel mill.

Since the mid-90s, the US has developed a respectable domestic league (although it’s not on par with the top European outfits), and guys have the option of either playing with the MLS or going abroad now. In fact, two of the USMNT’s best players, Michael Bradley and captain Clint Dempsey, came back to the MLS with much fanfare in the last year. Of course, the coach wants his guys to stay in Europe, but you can’t deny the allure of coming home and earning equivalent pay.

The make-up of the 2014 US men’s national team is a little different this year, a reflection of Klinsmann trying to push the team – and the American soccer “program” – forward. He’s trying to walk a tight line by planning for future World Cups by filling out the current roster with young players in the face of a tremendously hard tournament that starts this week. I hope his plan works, but, man, it makes me queasy. If the USMNT can get out of the group into the knock-out rounds, it’ll be a rousing success.

(Data and code are here.)

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World Cup 2014: Brazilian Players with One Name

The World Cup is coming! The World Cup is coming!

The tournament opens on June 12, when host nation Brazil plays Croatia in Sao Paulo. I feel likes it’s snuck up on me, even though I’ve been diligently following the US qualifying run for 18 months (The US began qualifying in October 2012). Also, I’ve been having nightmares caused by the Von Trapps’ first round schedule this summer against Germany, Portugal, and Ghana. I’m breaking out into a cold sweat thinking about it right now.

But rather than focus on potential disappointment (but what else is a sports fan to do, you ask), I’m here to examine the Brazilian World Cup roster in the only way I can: one-named players. I thought it would be, say, 50% of the team since the first World Cup in 1934, but I was way off. Try 79%. It’s actually trending down a bit.

Brazilian one-named player count

Brazilian players in the World Cup with one name have dominated the rosters since the first World Cup in 1930.

Let’s slice and dice the Seleção a bit more while we’re at it. The average age of the team has risen slowly but surely since 1934. The team in the first World Cup has an average age of exactly 24, while it’s been around 28 the last three tournaments.

Brazilian world cup age

The average age of Brazilian World Cup rosters has increased since the first World Cup in 1930.

Finally, the professional teams these superstars play for when not on World Cup duty reflect how club soccer has changed. Only one player since the first World Cup played professionally for a non-Brazilian team (Patesko in 1934, the first World Cup, played for Uruguay Nacional) until 1982, when a whopping two national team members played for Roma and Atlético Madrid, respectively. Now the Brazilian team is even more spreadout, with only four guys playing for local teams on the 2014 roster.

Brazilian world cup club teams

With an exception of one player in 1934, every Brazilian World Cup player played for a Brazilian pro team at the time of the World Cup until the 1980s

Data and R code are located here.

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An Atlanta Hawks Requiem: The Brooklyn Nets Turned Good

I thought I might jinx my Atlanta Hawks with my January post about how awful the Brooklyn Nets were. If I believed in jinxes and the consequences of forgetting to “knock on wood,” I would point to this paragraph:

As it currently stands, Brooklyn is a long shot to make the playoffs. Their odds to make it have fluctuated between 14-30% the last two weeks.The Hawks are near the top of the conference standings (their odds are 98.5% as of January 3), even though they stand no chance against the teams ahead of them, Indiana and Miami.

I did couch my expectations, despite risking getting struck by lightning, that hoping Brooklyn would stay terrible, but “that they should play better the rest of the way.” That last prediction turned out to be true. (Make enough predictions, one of them has to be right, right?) 2014 has been a good year for the Nets. Not so much for the Hawks.

Hawks Nets Winning Percentage 2013-14 NBA Season

The winning percentage of the Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets through the 2013-14 NBA season before and after major injuries.

The Atlanta Hawks are limping into the playoffs, losing the opportunity to snatch Brooklyn’s draft pick (because Brooklyn has finished with a better record than Atlanta) and settling for a mid-first rounder.  Al Horford’s injury is the major reason for their demise. Before the injury on December 26, the Hawks were 16-13. For the next 53 games, they finished 22-31. At one point in February and March, they went 1-15. Ugh.

The Nets also suffered a season-ending injury from a major player, Brook Lopez, around the same time. Before the Lopez injury, they were 9-17. After? Oh, just 35-21, a 0.625 winning percentage. In the graph above, you can see the two teams’ fortunes before and after their major injuries.

How did Brooklyn bounce back? According to Zach Lowe from Grantland:

The Nets’ season turned when they shifted Paul Pierce to power forward, committed to their own weird version of small ball, and amped up their defensive pressure all over the floor. The team’s rebounding has suffered, but it has thrived in almost every other area.

Atlanta didn’t have the fortune of having future hall-of-famers (Pierce, Kevin Garnett) and several other high-priced veterans (Deron Williams, Joe Johnson), so the loss of Horford had a big effect on the team. Here’s what happened to each team’s points scored and points allowed before and after the December injuries.

Hawks Nets PPG

Atlanta and Brooklyn reacted differently to major injuries. Atlanta’s offense dropped, and Brooklyn’s defense greatly improved.

Atlanta’s defense (the circles) got a little worse, while their offense (the triangles) dipped by 3.4 points per game. (That’s a lot.) Brooklyn’s offense actually improved after Lopez went out, and so did their defense.

So, the Hawks get the honor of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, despite a lackluster season. They lose out on a better draft pick, while Brooklyn, with the highest payroll in the league, righted the ship and now will be a tough matchup for any team. Wishing the worst for strangers playing a sport in order for another group of strangers playing the same sport to benefit has not payed off. Back to the drawing board.

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Primary Vs. General Elections: Southern Gubernatorial Elections

I was really fascinated with Harry Enten’s FiveThirtyEight article last month about Hillary Clinton’s 2016 polling numbers (they’re exceptionally high). In it, he dives deeper into the relationship between primary and general election results in presidential elections. According to Enten, “There’s been a strong correlation between the margin of victory in the primaries and the later margin in the general election. But correlation isn’t always causation.”

Enten compares the incumbent’s general election’s victory or defeat margin to the margin of victory for each party’s nominee in the primaries. His example:

To start, I calculated the margin of victory for each party’s nominee through past primary seasons. In 2012, for example, Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination by an aggregate 87.2 percentage points based on the votes cast in each state, while Mitt Romney won the GOP’s by 31.7 points. I then compared the difference between the two parties’ nominees (55.5 points in this case) to the general election margin of victory (3.9 points for Obama).

He concludes that, “As the graph shows, general election success has usually followed primary strength. Each extra margin-of-victory point for the incumbent party in the primary season equals a little less than an extra .2 points come the general election.”

Given that there seems to be some sort of correlation in presidential races, I thought it might be interesting to see if this was true at the state level, specifically for gubernatorial races. I focused on Southern states having gubernatorial elections this fall. I did this for a few reasons:

  1. I live in the South and take a keen interest in state politics, so it’s nice to know about where you live. For instance, I had no idea Lamar Alexander, Tennessee’s senior senator, was governor of the state. Sorry, Lamar!
  2. It narrowed down the many different state government web sites, Excel files, and PDFs one must sift through.
  3. The South is transitioning from one-party rule (Democrats) to one-party rule (Republicans) in this time period, so it might lead to some interesting results.
Application of FiveThirtyEight's presidential primary and general election performance model on Southern gubernatorial races

Application of FiveThirtyEight’s presidential primary and general election performance model on Southern gubernatorial races

In the end, I used primary and general election numbers from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee. South Carolina’s election results aren’t available on their government’s web site, while Arkansas seemed to have primary results for every office but governor.

Some Commentary

  • There is a weak connection between primary and general election results, but a connection nonetheless. For example, for every point the incumbent party in the governor’s race has over the challenging party’s primary margin, the incumbent party could expect an additional 0.15 points in the general.
  • Incumbents don’t lose that often. I have 22 election cycles documented, and the incumbent party only lost 8 times in the general election. When the incumbent party did lose, it lost “better”, with an average loss of 10%. A challenging-party candidate averaged a 13% loss. Flip that around, incumbent victories were 3% larger than challenger victories.
  • Tennessee’s incumbent party has switched three times since 1994 between Democrat and Republican. When the incumbency did change, the margins of victory were smaller than the 10% challenger average.
  • At first, using four different states seemed like a good idea. We could see see if election results in similar states would be similar. However, it’s too noisy and the data too variable by state. Two out of six Southern states this election cycle had limited data (Tennessee and Georgia), two had results stretching back decades (Alabama and Florida), and two I couldn’t access (South Carolina and Arkansas). If I further pursue this analysis, I’ll probably just focus on Florida and/or Alabama to see if there really is some sort of correlation – not necessarily causation – over time in these states. This in-depth look could show some interesting results, especially during the Democratic Party’s hegemony.
  • Here’s a link to my Google Spreadsheet with the election data.
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Atlanta Braves 2014 Preview: Aging Trajectories

Atlanta Braves Home Run Leaders

The home run rate (home runs divided by at bats) of the top 12 home run hitters in Braves history.

Being a consumer of sabermetric analysis, a member of a fantasy baseball keeper league, and a die hard Braves fan, the age of players is extremely important. You want youth with enough production that it makes sense to take the 23-year-old over the 30-year-old veteran.

When the Braves signed five of their young stars this off season to long-term deals, the team got their best players at below-market value for their most productive years, the mid-20s. They didn’t attempt to re-sign free agent Brian McCann, probably the second best offensive catcher the last five years (and the captain of the Baseball Police), who is 30. These moves show their fans and baseball that the front office actually knows what they’re doing and recognizes that you can’t build a team through free agency anymore. It’s too expensive, and it’s too risky. (Unless you’re the Dodgers, for whom expense and risk don’t apply.) Continue reading

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