We quantify concepts of sports psychology including leadership, confidence & experience, and consistency. In our work with sports organizations, we use more advanced analytics -- but even our simplified methods have correctly predicted the winner of major sports championships at about a 64% clip -- while picking underdogs regularly.
The Cubs won a powerhouse-like 103 games during the regular season. They started the season winning almost 80% of their games, and won their division by 17.5 games. In blowout games, the Cubs went 42-13, winning these games at a .786 clip. In a nutshell, the Cubs were the talk of 2016.
On the other hand, Cleveland started the season hovering around .500 until they heated up in June. The Indians finished with 94 wins, but it is noteworthy that Cleveland finished the season ranked No. 2 in the American League in both runs scored and team ERA. How do the teams stack up in our sports psychology quant facts?
Especially during short baseball playoff series, leadership in the form of pitching at the top of the pitching rotation is a key championship factor. The Cubs, led by Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta, who combined for 37 wins during the regular season take this category over the Cleveland Indians. Edge: Chicago.
During pressure-filled moments, the ability to find "consistency" and stay on "your game" has proven to be connected with winning the big game. Indeed, Dr. Jay Granat, a psychotherapist who has worked with athletes of all levels -- often encourages athletes to find a "ritual" to improve consistency. In baseball, our measure of consistency is each team's league rank in batting average. The team with the better batting average has won almost two-thirds of the World Series over the past three decades. This edge goes to the Cleveland Indians, who ranked third in the AL, compared to the Cubs who had the sixth best batting average in the NL. Edge: Cleveland.
The ability to minimize errors while performing at a high level is key to winning championships. In baseball, errors occur relatively infrequently - especially when compared to hits and walks. However, their importance cannot be underestimated from both an on-field and psychological perspective. The team with the better league rank in fielding percentage has won almost 65% of the World Series over the past 30 years. This year, both World Series participants were sixth in their respective leagues. Edge: None.
Big Game Experience
Across all major sports we studied, experience in previous championships -- and the related confidence -- had a mathematical connection with improved chances of winning the big game. Our official indicator is appearances in the World Series over the past three years. Neither team has been to the World Series in recent years, but the Cubs advanced to the National League Championship Series last year. Three years ago, the Indians lost in the American League Wild Card game. Edge: Slightly to the Cubs.
One particularly interesting factor that we have researched is the "consistency" factor. In football, for instance, consistency factors such as running statistics are more closely related to winning the Super Bowl than glitzy passing stats. In baseball, batting average is more closely correlated to winning the World Series than the home run. In fact, teams that rely more on the home run are regularly "shut down" by the higher level of pitching during the playoffs and World Series. This oddball factor favors the Indians slightly. Edge: Slightly to the Indians.
We will call the quant facts a draw at 1.5 to 1.5. We prefer to make a prediction for major championships, but we believe that the quant facts do, in fact, tell a story. The Cubs are heavily favored to win the World Series, with the Cleveland Indians being 2-1 underdogs. Sports fans may find value on the Indians, because the quant facts predict this year's World Series might be closer than many think. Enjoy the games!
Carlton Chin, CFA, is a fund manager, MIT-trained quantitative analyst, and co-author of “Who Will Win the Big Game?" He has worked with the Sacramento Kings on the Draft 3.0 Analytics Advisory Council. Dr. Jay Granat, the owner of StayInTheZone.com, was named one of America's Top 10 Mental Gurus by Golf Digest, and has worked with high school and Olympic athletes. Carlton and Jay have been interviewed and/or quoted by ESPN, the New York Times, and Wall Street Journal.
MadBum (Madison Bumgarner) has been unbeatable in the post-season. He owns a 0.60 ERA in seven games for the SF Giants, with the Giants winning every single game he has started. MadBum has also done well against the Mets during his career.
Why the Mets will Win the Wild Card
Although MadBum is one of the best in the game, the long-ball has been one of his weaknesses this year. He yielded 26 HRs -- and homeruns happen to be one of the Mets' strengths. Of course, during short baseball playoff series, the consistency of batting average is preferred over the long-ball -- as we saw in our New York Times articles.
The Mets ended the season as one of the hottest teams in all of baseball. On the other hand, the Giants played .417 ball the second half of the season and did not play .500 in any month to end the season (July = .458, August = .407, September = .464).
While many people are touting MadBum, Noah Syndergaard (Thor) is no slouch. After a seemingly up and down year, Thor finished his second major league season (he turned just 24 in August!) with an ERA of 2.60. Thor averaged almost 11 K's per nine innings during the regular season and averaged more than 12 K's in three post-season starts last year.
So What are the Odds that the Mets Win the World Series?
I currently favor the Mets slightly in the Wild Card game, and have the Mets' odds of winning the World Series at 4%.
Carlton Chin, CFA, is a fund manager, MIT-trained quantitative analyst, and co-author of “Who Will Win the Big Game?" He has been quoted by the Wall St. Journal, New York Times, and ESPN -- and worked with the Sacramento Kings on the Draft 3.0 Analytics Advisory Council. He has been a lifelong Mets fan since attending his first ballgame as a six-year-old.
Championship factors related to sports psychology were studied -- based on research with Dr. Jay Granat, psychotherapist. The results are based on championships going back several decades – and across major sports including the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, and professional tennis and golf.
Our work has shown that traits associated with hard work, focus on fundamentals, consistency, and minimizing errors can help to win championships. Indeed, these factors may be overlooked by many. Since our book, Who Will Win the Big Game came out in 2010, our published predictions based on these sports psychology "quant facts” have correctly predicted the winner of major sports events more than 60% of the time – while picking underdogs regularly. In this article, we apply these results to the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship Game between North Carolina and Villanova.
Leadership - On the Court
Data has shown that leadership on the court has a major impact on the odds of winning championships. Although most sports we analyze are team sports, the team with better individual leadership tends to win more championships than not. In NCAA Men's Basketball, teams that have more Consensus All-Americans (First of Second team) -- have won 60% of championship games. North Carolina (NC), with PF Bryce Johnson, is the only All-American on the court in tonight's championship game. Edge: NC.
Leadership - Behind the Bench
Leadership behind the bench is even more strongly-related to winning the big game. The coach with more Final Four victories has taken about two-thirds of the championships. This edge also goes to North Carolina, with Roy Williams' storied career. Edge: NC.
Our research has shown that defense does indeed win championships. This is especially true in college basketball title games. Teams with the better FG% defense have won an overwhelming percentage of NCAA championship games. This edge goes to Villanova, with its .402 FG% defense versus NC's .413. Edge: Villanova.
Consistency, as a sports psychology factor, is typically more related to winning championships than "shinier" stats. In college basketball, the three-point shot has gained in importance over the years. Villanova has been shooting very well, and they take this factor as well, .359 to NC's .319 3PT%. Edge: Villanova.
Attention to the basics and fundamentals can be as important as skill and athleticism -- especially in close games. The team with a higher free-thrown percentage (FT%) has won an overwhelming percentage of championship games. Villanova takes this category, .782 to NC's .748. Edge: Villanova.
Summary: Leadership vs. "Game"
Interestingly enough, tonight's championship game will come down to NC's leadership versus Villanova's "game." That is, NC takes both leadership factors: on the court and behind the bench. Villanova takes each of the statistical game categories. This prompted us to take a look at "strength of schedule" -- which gives a very slight edge to NC. Still, with the quant fact sports psychology factors favoring Villanova 3-2, our official prediction will be on Villanova.
Carlton Chin, a graduate of MIT, is a portfolio strategist and fund manager -- and has worked on sports analytics with sports organizations. Jay Granat is a psychotherapist and founder of StayIntheZone.com. They are authors of “Who Will Win the Big Game? A Psychological & Mathematical Method” and have previously been quoted by the Wall St. Journal, New York Times, and ESPN.