Photo by John King –

Table Setting

Down with the Downtrodden … Early Eggs … Shots Fired … Possessions Per Goal … Plan by Numbers … Riddle Me That … Prevent the Pull Play … What You See is Trickeration … Fanzone …


Short Sips of Hot Bitter Blackness. A hint of far-off stone-fruit sweetness. A smoky thickness lingers from the roast.

Today we’ll be working in large part from one chart in two parts. It compares the playoff teams only to the other in-conference playoff team.

As far as the playoffs are concerned the numbers racked up against the third and fourth place teams this season are irrelevant. Of them, only the Current managed to finish games against playoff teams within three goals (losses to Philly by three and one and a loss to Boston by one). So the big burn this week is that right now is the last time you’ll read about the Nighthawks, Rumble, Dogfish or Current in this column.


Ah, the core of the non-vegan breakfast. Boiled. Scrambled. Poached. Fried. Loco Moco’d.

Usually, we offer sweets before the core of the meal. Croissants and the like pair well with coffee and provide a subtle lifting of mood before the segue into serious eating. However, breakfast this week is a heartier affair eaten in preparation of a long day’s work like all that yard work you’ve been putting off, or a walking tour of many museums, or a day surfing, or a killer hike at altitude, or even… a weekend chock full of ultimate.

Without further ado, here is the first of two tables:

TeamO/DThrCmpIncCmp%ShotsGMissesShoot%Field ThrField CmpField IncField Cmp%
“Shots” are throws into the end zone
“Miss” are incomplete passes in the end zone
“Shoot%” is the percent of shots which result in goals
“Field Thr” are throws which, if complete, will not result in goals
“Field Cmp” are completions which did not result in goals
“Field Inc” are incompletions thrown outside of the end zone
“Field Cmp%” is (Field Cmp) / (Field Thr) *100

This table is ordered by shooting percentage and generally serves to break the playing field into two separate sections: The End Zone and Everything Else. This is because there is something unique about shots in ultimate. Not only are they definitive passes which will result either in a goal or a turnover (no mere completions) they also, simply put, determine who wins and who loses. No points are awarded for the team which completes the most passes or the highest percentage of passes. All that glitters is goals.

Take a look at it for breath. Here are some items of note:

* Shooting percentage ranges far more than either standard completion percentage or field completion percentage. Philly’s D-line leads the way at 81.82 percent and Seattle D-line trails all at 55.00 percent, a difference of 26.82 percent! For comparison, completion percentage varies by 7.85 and field completion percentage varies by 9.79. Yes, the sample sizes are different, but if a player was 11/20 he’d be a cause for concern.

* Every team completes passes at a higher rate when not throwing into the end zone.

* The two lines with the highest shooting percentage are D-Lines (Philly and Portland).

* Each of Philly and Portland’s lines have higher shooting percentages than any line on Boston or Seattle.

And now the second of two tables: 

TeamO/DOff. PossTPOPThr/ Inc

Thr/ Shot

Thr/GShot% PossShot% ThrG/IncPoss/ Shot


Conv% Poss
Shot%Poss is the percentage of possessions which end in a shot
Shot%Thr is the percentage of throws which are shots
Conv%Poss is the percent of possessions which end in goals (For O-lines this is HPSE, for D-lines this is BPSE)

And now for some explanations and clarifications.

This chart is ordered by “Possessions Per Goal” which is, quite simply, the simplest way to determine the efficacy of a given team or subset thereof. A perfect Poss/Goal is one and a good rule of thumb is that anything below two is very good. For those of you paying close attention, you’ll note that ordering by this number is the same as ordering by “Conv%Poss”.  However, I find Poss/Goal easier to apply to actual ultimate – rather than thinking, “We will score on a certain percentage of our possessions,” I find it more useful to think, “It will take us X possessions to score.” However, both are listed (and there are other dual-listed statistics as well) so that you may use whichever works better for you to compare and contrast.

This chart fascinates me. There is so much going on that I lose myself in the numbers like B-Rabbit In the Moment. If only my mom cooked spaghetti. Or anything, for that matter.

Here a couple of notes on the chart as a whole:

* TPOP is remarkably consistent across all teams and all lines.

* Percentage of Possessions which end in shots (Shot%Poss) is even more variable than Shooting Percentage from the last table! Shot%Poss ranges from Portland’s D-line at 78.43 percent to Philly’s D-line at 45.83 percent.

* All of Portland’s lines (and Philly’s O-line) throw more goals than incompletions.

* Like the last table, the top five spots belong to Portland and Philly.  Unlike the last table, the bottom spot belongs to Philly’s D-line.

This last bit brings me to the weirdest group on this list: The D-Line of the Spinners. They’re the worst at so many things but all of that is obviated by their incredibly high shooting percentage.  You don’t need to take as many shots if you make a high percentage of them!

In the second table, take a look at the differences between the bottom two ranked groups of players (Seattle’s Defense and Philly’s Defense). The Seattle Defense completes a higher percentage of passes, a higher percentage of non-scoring passes and takes more shots. The Spinners, however, are 18/22 on break shots while the Rainmakers are 11/20 on shots. That alone puts these two teams in the same range with repsect to Poss/G (Seattle at 2.55 and Philly at 2.67).


Tastes good so far. Future health consequences are sticky.

With all of those numbers out in front of us, what can these teams each do to try to advance to the MLU title game?

Portland:  Good Heavens Just Keep Doing What You Do

As far as I can tell, the only chink in Portland’s armor is the space between their ears. The Stags have been dominant in the regular season over the past three MLU seasons like the Golden State Warriors have been over the last two NBA seasons. While we can toss some shade Golden State’s way for losing to the best player on the planet this season, they already have a title from last season. The Stags have their regular season laurels, they key is not to feel like resting there. The question becomes: Is playoff MLU different from regular season MLU? Do title teams adjust or keep on keepin’ on? The Stags, like the Warriors, play in a unique wide-open style which tends to win on aggregate over multiple games. When it comes down to one individual must-win game, how does that style adapt or should it

Philadelphia: Put Up Break Shots

Philly’s defense completes passes at 85.71 percent. They score on break shots at 81.82 percent. That is easily the smallest difference (3.90) due to their completing passes at the lowest rate and making break shots at the highest rate. If you watch this team attack after a turn, this makes complete sense. With Esser and Martin they have two of the most aggressive transition cutters in the game. I’m not sure their defensive line is up to possessing the disc under duress, but anyone can put the disc up near Esser or Martin and go goal-hunting. As the only team with any line which fails to get the disc to end zone more often than they get the disc to the end zone, they are in a unique position to make positive change. If they do, the Whitecaps could be entering a world of pain.

Seattle: Patience is a Virtue

Seattle’s defense completes passes at 90.17 percent. They score on break shots at 55.00 percent. That is easily the largest margin due to their making break shots at an incredibly low rate. With their ability to complete passes all over the rest of the field at 94.77 percent, it would be wise for the Rainmakers to take only the best break shots. A goal in hand is worth two in the bush, as they say. In other (more frisbee) words: Just play your regular offense until the refs tell you to stop. In other (more metaphorical) words:  There is no spoon.

Boston:  No Layups

Boston isn’t at the top or the bottom in anything. They haven’t dominated the regular season as they have in the past, and they have yet to win in Philly this year. In many ways, Boston is a constant in the MLU. This weekend, the Whitecaps need to focus on the specific opponent in front of them and use their depth to counter the Spinners. Not depth in terms of throwing all 25 players at Philadelphia in hopes of running them ragged, but their depth in terms of executing a game plan. To best this version of the Spinners the Whitecaps must limit easy scoring opportunities. That means no short-field turnovers. No missed assignments on pull play defense. No dropped goals. The Whitecaps could be the first team in the East to win a playoff game away from home, but to do so they must be at the top of their game.

Veggies? Fruits? Yogurts?

Something light and possibly a positive decision.

A riddle: If two teams don’t play a game and nobody sees it, how many wins are awarded?

Waffles or Pancakes?

Choose… but choose wisely.

There has been some disagreement about the rankings over the last 72 hours as more clerical errors have been uncovered. Everything here is accurate with the possible exception of Poster’s ranking: 

NameWLEXTot Var

W: Picked Winner Correctly
L: Picked Winner Incorrectly
EX: Exact values picked. Four per game (Winning Score, Losing Score, Margin of Victory, Total Score). Higher is better.
Tot Var: Total Variance. Total amount by which four values per game (Winning Score, Losing Score, Margin of Victory, Total Score) were inaccurate. Lower is better.

The regular season title goes as expected and is bestowed upon Luke. I think something from the cellar will find its way to Sir Luke.

Now that we’re in the playoffs, I’ll attempt to keep track of both playoff ranking and aggregate rankings. We’ll see how I fare with that…

Beverage of Choice

Players or matchups to watch.

Philly Umbrella Zone vs. Boston Sideline Roller Pull

Each point begins with a pull and these two teams have done some of the best work defending or slowing or altering opposing pull plays over the course of the season. In Philly’s case, they will alternate a basic man defense scheme with a zone look which leaves one player significantly deeper than any offensive player on the field. Sometimes as much as 20+ yards. Underneath, the closest players to the disc are covered and a mid-depth player is often open. The variation between the two has caused some teams to throw into double coverage deep and others to not recognize that it is not man defense and as a result throw into a poach block in the middle of the field.

Boston, on the other hand, has shown a proclivity to crank a rolling pull down a sideline and run (what seem to me) to be variations on a theme of pressure the first throw defense. Sometimes zone, sometimes man, every opponent has fallen prey to this at some point as the Whitecaps have a clear vision of what they want to force and how they want to get the block. It generally involves overloading the strong side of the field (the side the disc is on) and leaving something over the top open.

Whichever team avoids these early defensive traps will be on their way to winning.

Portland WYSIWYG vs. Seattle Trickeration

Portland’s offensive game is a simple plan executed well. A deep well-spaced vertical stack with reliable handlers and a few monster cutters. The script stays the same with respect to where, when, who, how and why in this offense. The trouble is that most defenses simply can’t matchup with the individual players on Portland and the design of the offense precludes consistent help defense. Add in a handful of throwers willing and able to throw over the top with blades and hammers to punish poaches, then mix in just enough wrinkles to keep the defense from settling in and the Stags are a tough nut to crack.

Seattle, on the other hand, relies on a variable horizontal set and uses a variety of action to spring cutters open both deep and underneath. At the same time their defensive looks tend to be tailored more toward specific opponents with a mixture of zone and a variety of man defenses. While both squads use double teams and get poach blocks, the likelihood of a Rainmaker coming from an unexpected angle (even to his teammates) on offense or defense simply seems higher than for the Stags.

Last year in the playoffs, the Rainmakers pulled together just enough to eke out a victory over the none-too-subtle Stags. This year I’ll believe when I see it, but not a moment before.

The Place to Be

Personally, I’ll be…

Back to Germantown Academy outside of Philadelphia for the first MLU playoff game hosted by the Spinners. After this weekend I’ll have been to a playoff game in four of the eight MLU cities (Boston, D.C., Portland and Philly) and I somehow expect the Philly crowd to be the loudest and most engaged. Just below that I’d rank D.C. while Portland and Boston are too close to call for third and fourth place. Perhaps it is due to the blowouts in Boston or the nervousness in Portland, but neither of those crowds was what I’d call “positively rowdy.”  I could well be proven wrong this weekend in Portland, but someone else will need to relay that back to me as I’ll only be able to watch via Sunday in Philly, however, I will be listening closely to the fan engagement while calling the game with Mr. Geoff Poster!