Do Statistics Really Matter In Fantasy Golf Part II

Jeff Bergerson
By Jeff Bergerson October 24, 2015 20:03

 

In part I of this article, we explored the core statistical categories in golf on the PGA tour to see if it was any indicator of overall success, which is what ultimately matters to fantasy golfers. It doesn’t matter for scoring purposes how the players get there, it is the final result. A golfer who shanks his drive, but is able to recover and save par, receives the same amount of points as a golfer who drives the green and three putts for par. This is very different than fantasy football, where the actually statistics like touchdowns, yards, and catches are how you accumulate points. In fantasy golf, the points are dictated by birdies, pars, bogies, and how the golfer finishes in the tournament. This makes it difficult to know exactly what statistical categories to analyze for fantasy golf purposes. From Part I of this article, we now know what the results were for the leaders in the most widely known statistics for golf. Now we will look at a newer and less widely known statistic called strokes gained.

First let me say that I used the book, Every Shot Counts, written by Mark Broadie, for a lot of my research on the Strokes Gained statistic. I have read this book three times and I am fascinated every time I read it. There is a ton of groundbreaking information in it and I would highly recommend that you pick it up and read it.

The PGA Tour publicized widely the statistic called strokes gained starting in 2011, which was really its only new statistic in the last decade. It has quickly gained popularity and is now becoming more accepted.

Stokes -gained is a simple concept.  If a golfer gained four strokes on the field, with a three-stroke gain from putting and a one-stroke gain from off-green strokes, you can immediately see that putting explains most of the pro’s good score. Compare that with two traditional golf stats like putting average (total putts) and greens in regulation. If a pro took 28 putts and hit 13 greens in regulation, what does that tell you about his round? Not much.

The strokes gained method makes it possible to analyze a player’s game as a whole. It allows putting skill to be measured more accurately than by just counting putts. It allows driving skill to be measured better than it had been using fairways hit or driving distance. And most important, it allows putting, short game, and long-game skills to be compared directly with each other.
Counting putts as we always have, is a deeply flawed way of measuring a golfer’s skill, because it doesn’t take into account distance, the most important factor in the difficulty of the putt. A two-putt from 50 feet is a good result. A two-putt from three feet is not a good result. A simple count of putts gives two in both cases, but the skill level involved in the both cases is clearly different.

Here is an example: One golfer holes a 25-foot putt. On the same hole another golfer air mails the green, but chips to one foot, and then sinks the one-footer. Both golfers took one putt on the hole, so their putt counts are the same. Sinking a 25-footer is harder than sinking a one-footer, but the simple count of putts doesn’t distinguish between the two putting performances. The putting average (number of putts) stat doesn’t show the difference between the two golfers’ skills because it doesn’t take into account the initial distance of putts.
This thinking behind strokes gained in golf is similar to the approach that Bill James used in his sabermetrics revolution with baseball stats, popularized in the book and movie Moneyball. In baseball, batting average had long been the main stat used to measure proficiency at the plate. James showed that another stat, on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS), was a better predictor of a batter’s contribution to runs scored, and therefore of a player’s value to his team.

To gather all of the data necessary to compute shots gained, the PGA Tour developed a data collection system, called ShotLink. Beginning in 2003, the PGA Tour recorded detailed information on every golf shot at its tournaments, using laser technology and over three hundred volunteers per tournament. To collect ShotLink data, golf ball locations on the green were measured within a two inch accuracy, and off-green locations were measured within one-yard accuracy. Between 2003 and 2012, the ShotLink database, recorded over 10 million shots.

The key idea in strokes gained putting is to measure putt outcomes against a performance benchmark based on putt distance. The benchmark for pros is the PGA Tour average number of putts to hole out from a given distance. For example, the tour average from 33 feet is two putts. A one-putt from 33 feet gains one stroke compared to the tour average. A two-putt from 33 feet gains zero compared to the tour average. A three-putt from 33 feet loses one stroke compared to the tour average. Strokes gained putting for pros, then, is the tour average number of putts to hole out from a given distance minus the number of putts taken.

From a distance of eight feet, PGA Tour pros one-putt half the time and two-putt half the time. They virtually never three-putt. The tour average putts to hole out from a distance of eight feet, then, is 1.5. A pro who one-putts from eight feet gains 0.5 strokes compared to the tour average. A pro who two-putts from eight feet loses 0.5 strokes compared to the tour average. Most people are not used to thinking in terms of fractional strokes, but the math is fairly simple: Suppose a pro has two eight-foot putts in a round. He one-putts once and he two-putts once. His overall strokes gained is zero, because he gained 0.5 strokes with the one-putt and lost 0.5 strokes with the two-putt. The average of one and two is 1.5, so the pro averaged 1.5 putts for the two eight-footers. The 1.5 strokes exactly matches the tour average from that distance, so the pro’s overall strokes gained is zero.

Suppose a pro has four eight-foot putts in a round: He one-putts three times and he two-putts once. His overall gain is one stroke, because his one-putts gained 0.5 strokes each, for a total of 1.5 strokes gained. His single two-putt lost 0.5 strokes, compared to the tour average of 1.5. Overall, his strokes gained score for the round is 1.5 minus 0.5, or 1.0.

PGA Tour pros average 29 putts per round, with an average score of 71, so putts represent about 40% of their strokes. The number of strokes and the importance of strokes, however, can be very different. Nine of those 29 putts occur within two and a half feet of the hole (where pros make over 99.5%), so putts outside of two and a half feet represent 30% of their strokes. These gimmes illustrate a fundamental point: Not all shots are equally important. Two-foot putts aren’t as important as 10-foot putts. Why? Because almost all golfers make almost all two-foot putts, so they don’t explain much of the scoring differences among golfers. Ten-foot putts matter because some golfers make more of these putts than others. It’s not the sheer number of putts that matters, nor the number of drives or sand shots. Shots are important if they lead to scoring differences.

First, let’s look again at the 2004 to 2012 PGA Tour data, this time at the number of putts taken by tournament winners. Not surprisingly, winners almost always take fewer putts than non-winners. On the PGA Tour between 2004 and 2012, tournament winners averaged 27.5 putts per round while the field averaged 29. Winners took, on average, 1.5 fewer putts per round than the field.

Can the data tell us whether 1.5 putts constitutes a big difference? To answer that, let’s look at the total number of strokes—not only putts but also drives and approach shots and all others as well—that separated the winners from the field. Ultimately we will analyze the results of the Top 5, 10, and 20 ranked golfers on the PGA Tour in Strokes Gained Putting and Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green to see if they are statistical categories that we should be studying to find the best choices for fantasy golf.

The data shows:

Tournament winners averaged 67.4 strokes per round.

The field averaged 71.1 strokes per round.

Winners of tournaments beat the field by an average of 3.7 strokes per round (71.1 minus 67.4).
The 1.5 fewer putts taken by winners compared to the field accounts for 40% of the 3.7 fewer overall strokes that separate winners from the field. The remaining 60% must be caused by skill differences in shots other than putts, that is, by off-green shots.

This simple calculation reveals that off-green shots explain more of the difference in scores between winners and the field than putting can.
Putting’s contribution to victory (PCV) is defined to be the winners’ putts gained on the field divided by the number of strokes by which the winner beat the field. To find out how much tournament winners gained while putting relative to their number of total strokes, let’s look again at the scores of all players on the PGA Tour between 2004 and 2012.

Winners of tournaments beat the field by an average of 3.7 strokes per round.

Winners gained 1.3 strokes relative to the field due to putting.

Dividing the winners’ strokes gained putting (1.3 strokes) by the winners’ advantage over the field in all strokes (3.7), we see that the average putting contribution to victory is 35%. This calculation tells us that putts are less important to the victories of tournament winners than other types of shots. Putting contributed 35%, on average, to victories on the PGA Tour, while off-green shots accounted for 65%.

So let’s take a looks at some actual results from 2013 and 2014 to test this theory. To do this we will look at the Top 5, Top 10, and Top 20 ranked players on the PGA tour in each of these categories, Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green and Strokes Gained Putting. We will look at the average place in every tournament that these players finished, what their cut percentage made was, wins, and Top 10s. This will help us determine if these statistical categories are a significant indication of success and whether we should analyze it for purposes of fantasy golf. For calculation purposes of average tournament placing, we assigned a place of 80th to cuts missed, disqualifications, and withdrawals.

2014:

 

Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green

 

Strokes Gained Putting

 

The results for the Top 20 players in each category were staggering and demonstrated the importance of Strokes Gained-Tee-To-Green. The Top 20 in Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green for 2014 had an unbelievable average tournament place of 29th and cut percentage of 87%, while winning 12 events and taking 129 Top 10s. These numbers blew away the results for the Top 20 players in Strokes Gained from Putting where the average finish was 46th, cuts made percentage was 70%, produced 7 winners and 79 Top 10s. The Top 20 in Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green in 2014 also shattered the results from the Top 20 in the core statistical categories we analyzed in Part I of this article. Putting Average (number of strokes) proved to be the statistic to produce the best results of those four core statistical categories of putting average, greens in regulation, driving distance, and driving accuracy. The Top 20 in putting average only had a tournament average of 43rd, a cut percentage of 80%, 13 winners and 109 Top 10s. For greens in regulation, the next best indicator of success of the core statistics, the Top 20 finished an average of 41st, had a cut percentage of 76%, 8 wins, and 86 Top 10s. The results of the Top 20 golfers in all four core statistical categories pale in comparison to the results of the Top 20 in Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green, which is consistent with what Mark Broadie found in his research.
For 2013 the results were strikingly similar:

2013

Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green

 

Strokes Gained Putting

 

In 2013 the average tournament place for the Top 20 golfers in Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green was 29th and cut percentage was 87% , the exact same as in 2014 and was the best amongst all statistical categories. Again, the amount of Top 10s was a staggering 124 (similar to the 129 in 2014) and 15 tournament wins. This is so remarkable because the Top 20 players ranked in Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green accounted for 27% of all Top 10s during the course of the season (46 PGA events) and 33% of the winners. To make those numbers even more impressive, there were 253 players who played in PGA tour events in 2013. To repeat, the Top 20 players ranked in Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green won 15 of the 46 events on the PGA Tour out of a field of 253 players. Outstanding numbers.

In conclusion, all of the statistics that we analyzed in Part I and Part II can be advantageous, because the Top 20 in each is better than the PGA Tour average. However, as fantasy golfers, we want as big of an edge as possible on the field and want to be very profitable, like we are at Fantasy Golf Insider. To do that, we need to focus in on the statistical category of Strokes Gained and especially Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green, which indicates the most success overall for fantasy purposes. For the time being most of the world will still be referencing the core statistics that we covered in Part I. That will change over time when people start realizing just how accurate and indicative of success Strokes Gained is. As you read all of the articles written by our fantasy golf experts throughout Fantasygolfinsider.com, you will see that we always place an emphasis on Strokes Gained. You now have an edge over most people, as you will be using the most effective statistical category to predict success and you learned it on Fantasy Golf Insider.

 

 

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Jeff Bergerson is a co-founder of Fantasy Golf Insider.com, fantasy golf expert and has been following and writing about fantasy golf for over five years. He is a member of multiple season long fantasy golf leagues as well as an avid daily fantasy golf player. In the past 12 months he has won over $66,000 playing fantasy golf on Draftkings.com as jtbergerson. Feel free to contact Jeff at jeff@fantasygolfinsider.com or visit Fantasy Golf Insider.Com

Jeff Bergerson
By Jeff Bergerson October 24, 2015 20:03

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