When you think about the intersection of advanced sports statistics and political forecasting, you think of Nate Silver.
Far fewer people will know the name John Pudner, but college hoops fans probably should. Last summer, Pudner, a hardcore Marquette fan (and poster at Cracked Sidewalks) and data-oriented political professional who told SI's Luke Winn "I live in spreadsheets" decided to apply his skills to the game of college hoops. Specifically, he wanted to ape the sabermetric baseball statistic Wins Above Replacement, or "WAR," which measures and projects individual contributions over the course of a baseball season (and, every now and then, makes an out-of-touch sportswriter write regrettable nonsense). The hope was to create a metric that isolated and credited individual players for their contributions to a team by comparing those contributions to a generic "replacement level" player.
The result was what Pudner termed "Value Add." The formula, which factors in minutes played, usage rate and efficiency, first received its wider Winn-blessed airing last summer. Now, Pudner's entire rankings system is available online, and I've spent much of the afternoon scrolling and scanning for items of interest. (When I haven't been jumping up and down in my house like a kid on Christmas Eve, that is. What do you expect? The season starts tomorrow.)
So, what do Value Add's projected player rankings hint about the new season in front of us? A few observations:
The top of the list is occupied by Cody Zeller and Doug McDermott, which is nice, because it is always encouraging when general human consensus matches up with the numbers. That has long been the case with both players, and it's the case again here. Shabazz Muhammad comes in at No. 3, which ... well, we'll see. (The good news for UCLA? Even if Muhammed isn't eligible, fellow freshmen Kyle Anderson is projected to rank No. 5 overall.)
Sitting between them is a player I really loved last season, but who, I must admit, has probably not received his fair share of preseason plaudits in the run-up to the 2012-13 season: Georgetown forward Otto Porter. Pudner's formula projects (as most others do) a major leap between the freshman and sophomore campaigns, and Porter was already very capable on both ends of the floor as a freshman.
Value Add also loves B.J. Young, whom I selected in this week's first-ever college hoops draft, and whom I even had listed on my second-team All-Americans until I decided to go with Michigan State newcomer Gary Harris instead. I still like this decision -- I think Harris is going to be an immediate beast, and I really like the Spartans this season -- but Value Add definitely does not.
Anyway, like anything else, these are just projections. Value Add by no means is a magic bullet for individual advanced statistical rankings; it has its flaws, too. But it is fun to poke around and see where it both confirms and challenges our assumptions about the season to come, and the players that will make it memorable.