Injuries and Replacement

Published: March 31, 2009

In a journal here titled “Keeping Faith in a Long Season” I showed my true colors. I am a huge baseball fan, and a semi-huge basketball fan ( I would not have spent as much of my grad-student budget to travel 5 hours to see the Hornets-Spurs if I wasn’t semi huge). I am also a huge fan of statistics. I love that Ryan uses pace-free statistics. That is the type of analysis we need. We can argue about if they should be adjusted for 40 minutes, for 48 minutes, or per possession, but regardless per game stats are a little like RBI’s in baseball; big fans know why they don’t work.

This brings me to the concept of replacement players. In baseball to judge the value of a player they are compared to the cheapest available replacement (basically what you can find on free agency at the minimum; or in AAA). It is a great way to evaluate what a player contributes. In basketball it is a little more difficult. The replacement often plays a lot of minutes because of rotation, and the third string may play a little too. The NBDL is not nearly what AAA baseball is in terms of measurement, and NBA stats are further behind baseball stats.

However with the rash of injuries the Hornets have had this year it reminds me that replacing a starter is really where evaluation of value should come from. This is a list of how many games important Hornets starters have missed:

  • Chris Paul: 4
  • David West: 6
  • Peja: 19 and counting
  • Tyson Chandler: 28 and counting

Now Basketball Prospectus and John Hollinger have both recently created value measures that account for playing time. WARP (wins above replacement player) and VA (value added), but I will not get into that. I will let you all judge for yourself on some things.

We are 45-27 right now. Last year we were 50-22 with far, far less injury problems.

Peja played 77 games last year. Tyson played 79. Both were better when in there. My point is simple, and it is something that other people may have talked about. We are just as good as we were last year. The margin of victory is only about 2 points different (best predictor of future success) even with all the injuries. Adjusted for playing time I would bet my life it would almost identical.

Lots of people came into the season with great things to say. Lots of expectations were cast upon the Hornets this year. I have no idea what will happen in the playoffs or over the next 10 games. But one thing I do know is that I bet the correlation between replacement and wins this year would lead to about the exact same winning percentage as last year if not a small bit better. We may not be better; but the context neutral stats say that we are probably about the same team. Which is about what I expected and why some of my anti-Posey signing thoughts have been rejected here.

Keep this in mind when ESPN tells you that we have regressed a lot this year, and that as a 6 or 7 seed we won’t be nearly a challenge. I expect a first round series where we are favored; and a tough second round that could go either way. Sound familiar? I think I just spent too many words saying too little.

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