Saturday, October 3, 2015

My Analysis of Jaime Diaz on Jordan Spieth


Here's an article on Golf Digest from Jaime Diaz and his analysis of Jordan Spieth's game and why he thinks that his game will make it tough to sustain for a lengthy period of time.

http://www.golfdigest.com/story/the-very-qualities-that-make-jordan-spieth-great-will-be-the-toughest-to-sustain

For starters, I have no real problem with this article from Diaz.  It's not a hatchet job nor is he tying to say something outlandish for the sake of grabbing Web site clicks (or ratings) which many sports writers tend to do.  It's an interesting subject (can Spieth sustain great success?) and he backs up his opinion with some well thought out facts.

The problem is that Diaz is not an educated and trained statistical analyst and it leads to some questionable conclusions from him.  Not to worry, it happens.  I'm more or less happy that people are using metrics which helps popularize a more accurate way of analyzing golf instead of using conjecture, ill-founded theories and myths.

Whereas Woods, for example, borrowed from golf’s tried-and-true formula for being a dominant player -- kill the par 5s, effectively shrinking par 72s to par 68s -- Spieth doesn’t have the power to rely on those kinds of easy birdies. Although he was first on the PGA Tour in percentage of birdie or better on par 4s, and second in that category on par 3s, he was 39th on par 5s.

The 'tried-and-true formula for being a dominant player' is to kill the par-4's...not the par-5's.  And that's exactly what Tiger did in his prime.  Here's a look at Tiger's par-4 scoring average rankings over his prime:

1997: 6th
1998: 12th
1999: 2nd
2000: 1st
2001: 9th
2002: 2nd
2003: 51st
2004: 3rd
2005: 1st
2006: 1st
2007: 1st

This is because Par-4 Scoring average has the strongest correlation to Adjusted Scoring Average than any of the other major scoring metric, far stronger than Par-5 scoring average.  That's because the Tour averages roughly 10.5 to 10.9 par-4's played per round.  Furthermore, par-4 play epitomizes the entire game of the golfer whereas Par-5 play is very much distance off the tee biased.  

Spieth’s way of going consistently low suggests sleight of hand. He’s not long (ranked 78th in driving distance with an average of 291.8 yards), nor particularly straight (80th in hitting fairways), and doesn’t hit a ton greens (49th). But Spieth still managed to finish fourth in strokes gained tee to green, which was even better than his rank (8th) in strokes gained putting.

There is some 'sleight of hand', but it's different than Diaz presents it.

For starters, Spieth is effectively longer than Diaz is giving him credit for.  Diaz is using the old measured driving distance which measures only 2 drives a round.  While it is still a valuable metric, a more valuable metric is Driving Distance - All Drives which are all drives measured by the ShotLink laser.

In Driving Distance - All Drives Spieth ranks 43rd in driving distance instead of 78th in measured drives.  So he is effectively longer because he uses the 'sleight of hand' of not laying up.  And that's part of the reason why he does not hit a ton of fairways; he's not laying up very often.

Also, Diaz's metrics do not consider the difficulty of the courses that Spieth plays when it comes to tee shots.  Spieth ended up ranking 23rd in Driving Effectiveness out of 184 players this season.  So he's not truly long with the driver, but he makes up for it by not laying up on the par-4's and is still a great driver of the ball and uses that driving to dominate the par-4's which is far more important than dominating the par-5's.

To me, Spieth’s best qualities evoke athletes from other sports. At the moment, his putting is eerily good. He led in several putting categories, but the stat that resonates most is his conversion rate of better than 25 percent on putts between 15 and 25 feet -- first on tour by a lot. 
This is Diaz's best argument, but it's marred by misleading terminology.  Yes, Spieth ranked 1st in make percentage from 15-25 feet.  But, leading by 'a lot' is misleading as Spieth made 27.19% of his putts from 15-25 feet while Jamie Donaldson finished second at 26.26%.  That's a difference of only 0.93%.

With that being said, putts from 15-25 feet is often a 'volatile' metric for most Tour players.  Most Tour players that putt well from 15-25 feet will be just as likely to putt poorly from 15-25 feet the next season and vice versa.  However, the top notch and bottom rung putters on Tour tend to have some consistency in their performance from 15-25 feet.  The top notch putters tend to consistently putt well from 15-25 feet and the bottom run players tend to consistently putt poorly from 15-25 feet.  So, one could argue that Spieth is a top notch putter overall and could consistently putt well from 15-25 feet.  On the other hand, my projections show a drop in putts made from 15-25 feet simply because over the years the leader from 15-25 feet has been more around 22%, not 27%+.  

It’s an ability that currently separates him from his peers in the same way NBA MVP Stephen Curry has separated from his.
I prefer to look at Spieth's ability to make such a high percentage of par putts from 5-15 feet and then his ability to make those birdie putts from 15-25 feet.  That's clutch golf.


Magical periods of putting among the game’s very best tend not to last beyond a few seasons, as Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino and Tom Watson can attest. Even Woods, who made more bombs over a longer stretch than anyone, has seen his putting decline.

Trevino and Watson were unworldly, all-time great ballstrikers.  Watson had to develop the yips in order to see a 'dropoff' in his play and he still almost won a 6th British Open at the age of 60 years old despite playing with the yips.  And Watson was long.  I don't recall anybody ever claiming Trevino was a great putter.  Everybody that watched Palmer says he was incredibly long and I'm guessing that he was an incredible iron player.  Why?  Because every dominant player on Tour has been a great iron player during their dominance, just like Spieth.  Unless Spieth develops the yips, it's not a fair comparison to put him side-by-side with Palmer, Trevino and Watson.  And I think Palmer and Watson's putting woes were likely due in part to the changes in turf grass on the greens which worked better with the pop strokes that Palmer and Watson had.  That being said, that's pure speculation on my part.


Diaz has something with pointing out to power and longevity on Tour as well as the longer putting performance.  But the 'tried and true way to dominance' on Tour is to strike the ball well and putt well.  If you're super long, you can putt a little worse and be a little more offline.  Even Tiger had clearly his best seasons from 1999-2000 where he drove the ball extremely well.  The latter dominant years under Haney were filled with some awful driving, but he made it up with possibly the greatest era of iron play in the history of the game...and great putting.  

My projections for Spieth are great.  While his club speed is a hair below average, his ball speed is above average.  And he dominates the 'old fashioned' way...by doing everything extremely well (driving, approach shots, short game and putting).  While one could argue him not being able to sustain the putting from 15-25 feet, it's unreasonable to argue his performance in every facet of the game.  He dominates because he is really, Really, REALLY great at every part of the game.  And he's only 22 years old so he's likely to become stronger and develop more club speed over time and probably won't start to see a dip on that club speed until he's about 35 years old.

What will curb his era of greatness is injuries, changing his golf swing and changing his body in hopes of creating more power.  If it ain't broke, don't fix it.






3JACK

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