Fun with numbers: Sounders looking good

There's been a lot of talk around these parts regarding what makes a legitimate projection. Should we take into account more than simple PPM to predict where our boys will finish? Should we include goal-differential into projections? Should we dig even deeper?

At some point, we're planning to unveil a rejiggered pythagorean projection that we think answers these things in a statistically relevant way. Until then, we'll have to make do with the back-of-the-envelope stuff that people like malcontentjake, Dave and myself put together.

My latest incarnation is what I'm calling the "Current form projection."

What I've done is take the PPM for all 16 teams since they returned for the World Cup break. The idea being that only games played since then should reasonably count as current form.

The next step was multiplying that PPM by the number of matches each team has remaining. 

The final step involves adding that projected total to each teams' current total.

The result, I like to think, gives us a somewhat more up-to-date picture of how this season will unfold.

Before I get into some of the obvious issues with this, I'll share some of my findings:

 

  • In what would qualify as a huge shocker, the Columbus Crew would overtake the Los Angeles Galaxy for the Supporter's Shield. They wouldn't just eek by, either. Based on current form, the Crew would clear the Galaxy by more than five points (64.43-59.20).
  • Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas would finish 3-4 with nearly identical totals (53.80-53.00, respectively).
  • The next battle heats up in the 5-8 spots. The Sounders would come in fifth at 43.33 points; the New York Red Bulls would take sixth (42.60); San Jose would hold on to seventh (39.80); and the Philadelphia Union would surge into the final playoff spot (39.00).
  • Toronto would finish outside the playoffs once again (36.00) in the No. 9 spot; Chicago, and they are the team that fits this model most awkwardly, would take 11th (33.00); and Colorado would fall all the way to 12th (32.67).
  • It is also worth noting that, my previous comments to the contrary, the playoff cutoff may indeed be significantly less than the 44 points Dave and I have been projecting. It may even come closer to the 39-40 points that some have suggested it would (and I totally dismissed... sorry).

Like I said, though, this projection has some obvious flaws. For one, teams have played as few as three matches since the World Cup break and as many as seven. Chicago, as I previously noted, is the hardest team to project because they have played two fewer post-World Cup matches than any other team (this was written before tonight's results).

The most common number of games for teams to have played is still just five matches, and I must admit that it's a bit of a stretch to project an entire season based on such a small sample size.

There's also the not-so-insignificant problem of factoring in things like strength of schedule. For team's like Seattle, which has a relatively easy road toward the end of the season, this might make their total look artificially low. For others, it's sure to unfairly inflate their total. It also doesn't take into account how many matches each team plays at home as opposed to on the road. 

Like I said, I'm not pretending that this is worthy of a doctoral thesis or anything. I did this more as a fun exercise than as something I expect to be taken too seriously.

That doesn't mean I think it is wholly without merit, though. I think it's probably more accurate to take a team's current form than it is to equally count matches that occurred three months ago. Teams like the Sounders feature players that look entirely different than they did as recently as a month ago.

Once teams have both played more post-World Cup matches and have played a more similar number of them, this will become a much more relevant formula, I believe.

Until then, you can expect some more analysis from Dave and I and we whole-heartedly encourage anyone else to dive into this kind of stuff. Malcontentjake, for instance, did a bang up job last week and I'm looking forward to seeing what he comes up with in the future. 

And yes, we're well aware of the existence of Sports Club Stats and their MLS projections (on which the Sounders have climbed into ninth and now are pegged at a 35 percent chance of making the playoffs). Dave has expressed some skepticism over their pythag formula because it may discount ties. Honestly, I'm not sure what to make of it, but my gut tells me that it values old results more than it should and seems to put too much emphasis on results (wins and goals for/against) and not enough on process (form and shots for/against). 

The truth is that none of our projections matters, and that the play on the field is obviously the only thing that will determine any of this. Right now, following the Sounders has been quite a ride. I'm just hoping it continues.

UPDATE: I guess I should have included the entire standings, so here ya go:

Crew 64.43
Galaxy 59.20
RSL 53.80
FCD 53.00
Sounders 43.33
Red Bulls 42.60
SJE 39.80
PHI 39.00
TFC 36.00
KCW 34.17
CHI 33.00
COL 32.67
CHV 31.60
HOU 26.80
NER 26.20
DCU 17.20

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