Dynasty Data: The Analytics Behind Championship Winning Teams
Tuesday, January 01, 2019
Everyone loves a good comeback story, or a good underdog story, or frankly any heartwarming story about sports that makes people feel something. What everyone doesn’t love? The same teams winning championship after championship, further establishing their spot in sports history.
A dynasty constitutes what, exactly? It has many different definitions but in sports, it means a team that has dominated their field for an extended length of time. A dynasty can live and die, as through generations and changes of players constitute a whole new squad, and a whole new game. Current dynasties look a little something like The New England Patriots, The New York Yankees, Nick Saban’s University of Alabama football squad and as for hockey, only 4 teams have won the last 8 cups, and minus Boston’s 2011 win, that number would reduce to only 3. Pittsburgh has cups in 2009, 2016 and 2017, Chicago has cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015, and L.A. has cups in 2012 and 2014. Although this may look like the beginning of a dynasty, there is no one team that dominates the league (not to mention Chicago lost in the first round of the playoffs in both 2016 and 2017, and is looking like they may not even make the playoffs this year). The question here is, what exactly makes a dynasty team? A great captain? A great coach? Line cohesion? The answer isn’t as simple as a draft pick and a bit of luck; there are copious statistics that go into making the perfect team, which may be exactly why your team traded your favourite player and proceeded to win 3 titles.
What exactly are the stats that go into a dynasty? Let’s look at the San Antonio Spurs as an example. With five championships in 1999, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2014, The Spurs have made it known they are one of the best in the business. They also never missed the playoffs since 1997, the year Tim Duncan was drafted to the team. Looking at points per possessions, for every 100 possessions the team nets 7 points; sounds pretty low, but not only is basketball a sport full of turnovers, but also the next team up in that stat is the L.A. Lakers, sitting at 4. This means the Spurs get almost 3 points more than the next best team per every 100 possessions. When looking at opposing field goal % of championship teams from 1998-2014, San Antonio sits in 3 of those top 5 spots, with the 2004-2005 squad sitting in second behind the 1997-1998 Chicago Bulls, and both the 2013-2014 and 2005-2006 teams sitting in 4th and 5thbehind the 2010-2011 Dallas Mavericks. Though big teams in sports these days look like the Golden State Warriors or the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Spurs have proved they deserve to be taken seriously in the basketball world.
Bill Belichick is synonymous with the term dynasty. Since Belichick became head coach of the Patriots, after he made the best choice of his life resigning as coach of the New York Jets after one day, he has run the NFL. Since his hiring in 2000, the Patriots have won 15 division titles (the last 9 have all been theirs), 7 AFC championships, and five Super Bowl wins, going for another AFC championship this weekend (which will be their 7th straight appearance in the game) and potentially another Super Bowl win on February 4th. These numbers aren’t even the most important when it comes to looking at the Pats complete dominance of pro football. The most shocking yet incredible stat about Belichick’s legacy is that he would have to coach for 102 more years and not win the division in any of them in order to restore the frequency of AFC title wins for the Patriots before his arrival. Even in game, the Pats point differential since 2001 is a whopping 2,534; one thousand more than 2nd place team Pittsburgh (1,354) and over double every other team (The Browns are at -1,477 if you were wondering). Since 2001, the Patriots are 82-24 against the AFC East (77.4 winning percentage) and 235-overall (including playoffs), giving them a 76.5 winning percentage. Against the AFC North, the division that includes rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore, the Pats have a 29-8 record, or a 78.4 winning percentage. Anyone with eyes can see that New England has absolute dominated football for the past two decades, but even statistically, we can see the Pats win 75% of the time to sum it up.
Derek Jeter has been a relevant name in sports for decades. Whether it be his questionable choices as he’s in control of the Marlins, or his other endeavors as a businessman, he’ll always be remembered first and foremost as a Yankee, and for good reason. Between 1996 and 2003, the Yankees had 4 World Series titles and 6 World Series appearances with him in the lineup, including from 1998-2000 when they won 3 World Series titles in a row. Since then, the Yankees won another title in 2009, but that was their last victory. As far as baseball goes, the Yankees still dominate the AL East, qualifying for 18 of the 24 postseasons in the last 25 years, including 13 consecutive appearances from 1995 to 2007. They also won the American League seven times in this time. Of course, in recent years, the only team to have multiple successes was the San Francisco Giants, winning titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014, but since have failed to even qualify for the postseason in 2017, and losing to eventual World Series champions Chicago in 2016 in the League Divisional series. They also failed to make the postseason in 2011, 2013 and 2015, the 3 years between their World Series wins. Though the Giants do have potential, they’re not the powerhouse that the Yankees have been.
Saying that a winning team is statistically better than their opponents is stupidly obvious. Of course you have to be better than your opponent to beat them. Yet there’s always going to be those highlight reel buzzer beaters from Cinderella story teams, or an overtime win due to a hail Mary, or a shootout goal that wins you the cup. Being “better” doesn’t just mean being a few points ahead of the team below you, but rather being almost twice as good, so much that the competition can’t even come close to you. A dynasty is just that; their skills are so unmatched that as hard as teams try to get new players and change up their game plan, they just cannot beat these powerhouses. The way to beat a dynasty team? Attempt to compete to their level, or tank for the number one pick, but most of all just pray that it’ll be over soon.