Friday, January 11, 2013

Handicapping the MVP race

The MVP award always causes arguments for the simple reason that no one can truly define the word 'valuable' in the sports world.  Is it the best player on the best team?  Is it the player who helps his team exceed expectations?  Is it the player who carries an otherwise pedestrian squad?  Each person views value differently, and just by looking at the major sports, you can see that even they can't come to a consensus on what's a true MVP.  So if you expect our dysfunctional league to get it right, clearly you don't watch Balls of Fury.

With all of that being said, since our league is three-fourths of the way complete, it's time to analyze any league's most controversial award.  Let it be known that while this writer has his biases, this article's purpose is not to pick an MVP; rather, to outline the different MVP candidates, what "tier" of the MVP discussion they fall under, and why they could/couldn't win the MVP award.

These tiers are in no particular order outside of the first two tiers.  Meaning that everyone from tier 3 onward, in my opinion, has a legitimate chance to walk away this season's MVP.

Tier 1 - Can't Get Past the Velvet Rope to Join the Club (The Best of the Rest):
Guerrier Connor (Snipers)
Raza Dastigir (Strikes 'n' Spares)
Mufthy Dastigir (Strikes 'n' Spares)
Amaad Bhatti (Strikes 'n' Spares)
Abhishek Kumar (Pin Smackers)

Everyone's in this group for one of two reasons.  Guerrier has taken the title 'league's best bowler no one talks about' away from Khaled.  His 184 average, to me, makes him the runaway ROY.  The only reason he's not getting noticed is because he's on the last place Snipers.  But just look at this past Sunday.  He took all 3 points from Jason 'I rarely lose' Reis.  NO ONE can make that claim this season.  Imagine if Guerrier was on a team fighting for a playoff spot?

Which brings us to Abhi.  His team IS fighting for a playoff spot.  He's 3rd in average.  Yet he's nowhere near the top 10 in total points scored for the league.  Normally this wouldn't make too big a deal; except Abhi's team would not make the playoffs if the season ended today.  Even if Abhi does get his team into the playoffs, a lot of people believe his team has under-preformed for most of the season.  Keep in mind, this same squad finished #1 overall in season 1.  The fact that the Pin Smackers are in this spot this late in the season keeps Abhi from getting into the debate.

Under normal circumstances, some combination of Raza, Mufthy, and Amaad would be actual MVP candidates.  They're on the best team by far, and Mufthy's top-10 in average, while Raza leads the league in points scored.  Amaad has a 167.8 average from the lead-off spot, which is the highest average from the #1 position in our league.  The reason they're not in?  It's simple, they have the league's best bowler in Jason.  More on him later, but the fact that he's so dominant changes the team dynamic.  With Jason expected to miss the next month, it's possible one, both, or all three of them will make it into the discussion, but until that happens, they cannot be considered yet.

Tier 2 - The Wildcards:
Amin Sadiqi (Asian Sensation)
David DeBlasio (Pin Pals)

Surprised?  Did you not read the introduction of this article?  Value can be defined in many ways.  So what makes these guys special?  Two factors come into play in their favor.  The first being the improvement during the season.  Amin has bowled a 172.9 average since week 5, which is 30 pins higher than his average from the start of the season.  Dave has bowled a 168.5 average since week 5, which is 20 pins higher than his average from the start of the season.

The other factor is that they both get the job done in their match-ups.  Amin is 5th in individual points scored, while Dave is tied for 6th in the same category.  So even as their handicaps have dropped, they've still been able to score points week in and week out.  That is the sign of a truly good bowler, even when they're giving up pins based on the handicap, they're able to win their match-up more often then not.

While neither will get serious top level MVP votes, in my view these guys deserve to be mentioned for their improvement and for the great work they've done week in and week out.  

Onto the current MVP candidates.  Again, these are in no particular order:

Tier 3 - The Tag Team Division:
Ayaz Dar/Asif Siddiqui (Pin Pals)
Don Ali Hugo/Eddie Santana (Strike Kings)
Wahid O/Shumail Haque (Balls 'n Strikes)

After a slow start where everyone was writing them off, the Pin Pals are now sitting pretty in the #2 spot, and many believe they are the team with the best chance of taking down Strikes 'n' Spares.  While Chris and Dave have done their part, it all starts with Asif and Ayaz.  Asif has improved from last season with an average of 191.2 (4th overall).  To make that more impressive, after his slow start (170 over first 6 games), in his last 16 games, his average has been a staggering 198.3.

Meanwhile, Ayaz continues to do his thing, with an average of 184.2 (5th overall), and scoring 16 individual points (tied 9th overall).  Ayaz sets (a loud and annoying) tone for the Pin Pals by taking on every anchor, keeping the pressure on the opposing anchor to close out, especially at the end of matches.  Even if he's struggling, he's still regarded as one of the league's best closers.

After the hot start by the Strike Kings, they have settled in the middle of the pack.  Don Ali has once again been one of the league's most consistent bowlers, averaging 200.7 (2nd) while scoring 18 individual points (8th).  Looking deeper at Don's scores, of his 33 games this season, only six games has he scored under 180.  Compare that to a whopping seventeen games of 200 or better.  Needless to say, Don brings it week in and week out, and gives the Strike Kings a dominant bowler week in and week out.

Eddie has also had a good season, with an average of 180.8 (7th), and scoring 16 individual points (tied 9th).  Eddie also has a number of top 10 high series and high games to his credit.  On top of that he gives the Strike Kings flexibility to rotate with Don in the 3-4 spot, giving the team an edge that most teams do not have.  When Eddie is on, the Strike Kings are usually very difficult to beat.

Rookie team Balls 'n Strikes got rudely welcomed to the league, losing in their first 2 weeks before finding their groove, as they currently sit 5th in the standings.  This is largely attributed to Wahid and Shumail.  Wahid started the season slow (157 average through the first 2 weeks), but has picked it up since (177 average after week 2).  Wahid is just outside the top 10 in both average and individual points (12th in both categories).  With a power approach, he can bowl the same way despite lane conditions.  So while a number of curve ballers have had up and down games this season, once Wahid found his stride, he's never looked back, and given Balls 'n Strikes solid series week in and week out.

Shumail has had another great season despite missing significant time.  Had he qualified, his 185 average would be #5 overall, and his 15 individual points is #11 overall.  Usually when he shows, Balls 'n Strikes becomes a team that few can beat, as evidenced by taking Strikes 'n' Spares to the limit earlier in the season.  So it really helps Shumail's case that they rarely lose when he's there, and bowling along side Wahid.

The Shawn Michaels vs. Marty Jannetty debate:
In his history of tag teams, one tag team member is stronger than the other (hence the sub-title; Shawn Michaels became of the best wrestlers of all time, while Jannetty's biggest claim to fame was being Michaels's tag team partner in the late 80's).  While all 6 of these bowlers have a chance at the MVP, stronger cases can be made for one member of each team:

Ayaz vs. Asif - Clear advantage goes to Asif here.  Asif has gotten better each week, while Ayaz has gotten worse (176.6 average the last 5 weeks).  Also, while it's true Asif has scored one less individual point than Ayaz, Ayaz has bowled 8 more games than Asif.  What does this mean?  Asif's been better, plain and simple.

Don vs. Eddie - Again it's pretty simple, Don gets the nod here.  Don has been consistent all season, hovering around his 200 average.  Meanwhile, after Eddie's hot start, he's been averaging around 175 over the last seven weeks.  Eddie has scored one less individual point than Don in 6 less games, but Don's consistent high level effort makes him the stronger candidate.

Wahid vs. Shumail - This is where it gets interesting.  In terms of pure numbers, Shumail is better.  But Shumail has shown to half the games, while Wahid is there every week.  On top of that, Wahid usually bowls anchor, while Shumail goes third (meaning Shumail has a better chance to score a point).  The advantage goes to Wahid here.  Being there is half the battle, and Whaid has carried his team to victory some weeks without Shumail there.  Shumail has never even had to carry the team without Wahid there.

Tier 4 - Flying Solo:
Prince Panicker (Force)

Let's number crunch early here.  Below is a stat about each team.  Can you guess what the stat is describing? (No cheating)

Force - 155.1
Snipers - 163.4
Pin Smackers - 169.2
Balls 'n Strikes - 172.6
Asian Sensation - 174.5
Strikes 'n' Spares - 177.5
Strike Kings - 180.8
Pin Pals - 184.2

...Any ideas?  Unless that number is describing you, or your a total stat-head like Raza, I'm guessing you have no idea.

The numbers above describe the average of the 2nd best bowler of each team, in order from least to greatest.  This is not a disrespect to Riz of Force; he's done an admirable job stepping in as the team's #2 bowler after they lost Moe to a season-ending injury.  That being said, it can't be ignored that he'd be a really good #3 bowler, but isn't quite at the level of a team's 2nd best bowler just yet.

Not only has Prince had to work without a true #2, he's had a short roster 4 out of the 11 weeks so far.  On top of that, Force was once 34 points out of a playoff spot this season (to put that in perspective, the Snipers are currently 33 points out of a playoff spot).  It's impressive Prince has carried a team buried at the bottom of the standings into the playoff picture (Force is currently 6th).  It's probably more amazing Prince hasn't snapped and killed someone from the league yet because he's had to bowl short-handed more often than any other team.

Prince's average of 177.2 (9th overall) isn't spectacular, but he's scored 20 individual points (2nd overall), so he's finding ways to win in-between making phone calls in hoping he'll have a full roster.  Moreover, while Prince doesn't strike a lot, he's leading the league in spares, so he finds a way to close frames one way or the other.  Meaning the opposing anchor has to earn his victory.

Prince's MVP candidacy will be based on where Force finishes at the end of the season.  If they make the playoffs, and Prince continues his play (188.4 the last 3 weeks, 9 points scored), it will really make him a legit contender.  However, if Force misses the playoffs, it will be on his shoulders.  In order to be labeled as the bowler who does more with less, you have to actually do something noteworthy.

Tier 5 - The Superstar Among Stars:
Jason Reis (Strikes 'n' Spares)

Jason's been the league's best bowler from day 1.  This season, he's upped his game to new heights.  His league leading 217.5 average is nearly 20 percent higher than the next highest bowler.  His 3 lowest games of the season are 172, 183, 189.  His lowest series is 585, and that's the only time he's bowled under 600 this season.  Even if he doesn't beat the opposing team's anchor (tied 6th in points, so he usually does win), he gives his team a lot of pins, so they are unlikely to lose total pins in a match.  Not to mention, he's currently the leader in strikes, and it's not close between him and #2 in that category either.

So what's stopping us from crowning Jason MVP right now?  Since the award is based on value, and not simply the best numbers, one has to question Jason's value.  Jason missed two weeks early in the season, and his team didn't even blink, and worked their way to #1 without him.  They even bowled one week with a blind for 1 game instead of Jason, and they still won that game.  Upon his return, the team has never even come close to relinquishing the #1 spot.

Obviously, Jason makes Strikes 'n' Spares the team to beat this season, but they'd clearly be a playoff team without him.  With Jason expected to miss most of the next month,  we will learn just how valuable he is to his team. If they once again do not miss a beat without him, not only does that hurt his MVP chances, but it likely puts Mufthy and Raza in the discussion.  However, if they struggle, or somehow fall in the standings, Jason's stock goes through the roof.  One of the few times the value of the best player on the best team will be tested.

Tier 6 - The Default Candidate: 
Yash Mahajan (Asian Sensation)

Asian Sensation has done a great job all season, and they're currently 3rd in the standings.  Everyone on their team has been good/great all season long.  Someone has to be in the MVP discussion.  So Yash gets the nomination, as he's been the team's best bowler, and the team's anchor for most of the season.  Yash has led a team that finished last in season 1.  Their only pickup, Justin Reis, has bowled less than half a season, and hasn't been consistent even when he has shown (167.3 vs. 182.2 in the summer).  So their improvement has come in house.

After a hot start, Yash has settled around a 175 average for most of the season (currently 174.9, 10th overall).  He's 4th overall in points (19.5), which is 2nd overall to Prince in points scored by an anchor.  This all goes to show 'The Shark' has crept up from the depths to be one of the league's best.

Like Jason, Yash's MVP numbers aren't helped by the fact that he's on a really deep squad.  Khaled, the team's 2nd best bowler, has an average of 174.5, which is virtually the same as Yash's.  He also has Justin, who while off, is still one of the league's most feared bowlers.  What helps Yash is that Khaled has missed weeks, AND Justin has missed weeks at the same time.  Yes, Yash still has Amin (written about earlier), and Jin (165.5 average) to help out, and that's nothing to overlook.  That being said, Yash has anchored not as deep Asian Sensation teams and led them to victory.

Yash's MVP candidacy will be on one thing.  He's essentially a lesser version of Jason, as Asian Sensation and Strikes 'n' Spares mirror each other.  But Jason's having a historic season.  Yash is simply having a good season.  Basically, Yash is going to need an amazing finish, and Asian Sensation is going to have a bye in order for Yash's MVP chances to gain real steam.

With 5 weeks left in the regular season, all of these bowlers have a chance to really make a statement on who should be MVP.  Will it be the historic bowler (Jason)?  Will it be the bowler who doesn't have a lot of help (Prince)?  Will Yash change his status as a 'default nominee'?  Will one of the 'tag-team' bowlers do more to separate himself from his partner and make an even stronger case?  More importantly, which of these 9 bowlers will carry their squads into a desired playoff position?  Who will respond to the pressure of needing to be the best?  This will be an interesting finish to a great season.

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