Photo by Burt Granofsky – Ultiphotos.com
Parity or Parody … End zone Offense … Pace of Play … Wind … Not-Tom … Barnburners and Basement Battles … Game Seven …
Short Sips of Hot Bitter Blackness. A hint of far-off stone-fruit sweetness. A smoky thickness lingers from the roast.
For comparison, here are the top five in history:
These are also the only five over 70 percent.
The flipside of this is that from 2013-2015 there were zero teams who finished with a DSE (Defensive Scoring Efficiency, or as I like to think of it “Break Conversion Rate”) over 39.40 percent (2015 Portland Stags). This season we’re near-set to have THREE teams finish with a DSE over 40 percent:
This speaks to a lack of parity in the league. Normally, I’m not a fan of parity in sports leagues. I would prefer there to be superteams and chumps. However, that is often in the context of a discussion about artificially created parity a la professional sports drafts and salary caps. I believe both are anathema and should be done away with as they side with management over labor while simultaneously devaluing competition and depressing the value of work. But that’s a separate fish to fry.
For now, let’s acknowledge that the MLU is currently an unbalanced league. There are 3-4 crap teams (depending on how we value the D.C. Current) and there are four quality teams. That three of these quality teams are historically dominant via efficiency numbers is more an indictment of the other teams than it is a plaudit.
Let’s go back to the DTE numbers and consider that the next three highest ranked teams are all Dogfish:
Part of this is due to the dreaded Boxer Stadium Bounce which forced all present into turnovers. But if we consider the 2016 Dogfish a little deeper, we will learn more about the problems in the league this season. First, the Dogfish have dropped 8-straight games this season, a league record. Second, they convert those defensive possessions at 37.80 percent, which means that no matter how many shots they get at a break, they fail to score more than three out of ten times. Why? Well, the 2016 Dogfish complete passes at 88.80 percent which is the 6th worst in MLU history. Of the five teams lower than 88.80 percent three of them are competing this season. Here are the bottom six in all their inglory:
Completion percentage isn’t a measure of success (No 2016 teams are in the top 10 all-time) but it is a baseline measure of basic skill (all 2016 playoff teams are above 90 percent). These teams lack the skill to compete with their opponents. This is vital in 2016 because no team had a DTE (Defensive Turnover Efficiency) under 49.30 percent (Vancouver Nighthawks) and every other team was at 52.30 percent (D.C. Current) or higher. This means that seven out of eight teams were more likely than not to get a break possession on any given offensive point their opponent played and the eighth would get a break possession on 49 out of 100 opposing offensive possessions.
It is not the inability to get break possessions which has doomed these teams to miss the playoffs, it is the inability to complete passes. This is one of the most frustrating things for a coach to experience. It doesn’t matter what your plan is if your team cannot complete passes. Yes, over time coaches can improve the skill of their players through training and they can mitigate the damage through strategy and tactics, but on a basic level this is up to the players to remedy.
This lack of skill leads to goal differentials over a season which boggle the mind like Vancouver’s -9.22. No team in history has had a GD of -6.00 or worse and the Nighthawks are at -9.22. Here are the lowest seven single season GDs in the MLU:
I’d like to say that it is good thing when teams have unheard of positive GDs, but when we consider this list:
We now have further evidence that this season is an outlier. Congratulations are in order for the four teams which made the playoffs in 2016. As I am wont to say, “You can only beat the teams on your schedule,” and the playoff teams this season have done so with aplomb.
Tastes good so far. Future health consequences are sticky.
It has taken me a while, but I am 100 percent behind the half-field pull.
Without it, we would rarely see teams fight their way out of the end zone they are defending, in particular when they are attacking downwind. At first, I thought it was complete gimmickry (and it still smacks of newness), but at this point I’m so used to it that I am disappointed when I don’t see it in other competitive versions of ultimate.
It also provides a use for timeouts other than “rest and slow the game down.” I would do away with timeouts in all sports if I had the power to do so, but these midfield pulls make me reconsider my stance.
To consider the midfield pull a little deeper, head over and check out this piece from the preseason. In fact, at this point I like midfield pulls so much that I’ve been trying to figure out ways to make teams play out of their own end zones more frequently. Here are some thoughts:
1. All Midfield Pulls
This is a rule I am quite ambivalent about. I like the feel of the pull, but I really dislike that the teams rarely get down on the pull and that there is little pressure on the first throw or two. I also dislike that huge disparity in starting position in upwind/downwind games. This addresses all of that, but it removes one of my favorite sites in ultimate: The Perfect Pull.
2. No Walking Up From the End Zone
That is, if you force a turnover in the end zone, rather than walking it up to the goal line to restart play, you put the disc into play as you would on the rest of the field. When I consider this, I find it odd that we walk it up at all in the first place. Why do those last 20 yards count differently for the offense? If you work it all the way up and fail to score, why not still get credit for the distance of the throw into the end zone? For the distance into the end zone to not count seems odd to me. The disc went into the end zone. Why not count that distance against the defense (now offense)?
3. Pull from Some Number of Yards Ahead of the End Zone
That is, neither a midfield pull nor a pull from the goal line, but a pull from, say, 20 yards out of the end zone. This is just a less extreme version of #1, but nonetheless is something to consider.
Point is, I like teams playing out of their own end zone. I find it far more compelling to watch. There is an element of danger when the defense pushes up in the quest for a Callahan which is balanced by the ability of the offense to use that press against the defense to get a good look at a deep shot.
Ah, the core of the non-vegan breakfast. Boiled. Scrambled. Poached. Fried. Loco Moco’d.
One reason I’m looking at these is to consider which teams play higher scoring games and which teams play lower scoring games. The results were surprisingly similar across all teams:
The pace of all games is between 36.9 and 38.6 which is not even a full 2-goal margin! The breaks range from 12.6 to 15.8 ad the holds from 21.4 to 25.4. When considering how many goals will occur in a game, we not only get a sense of how best to compete in Picks and Predictions, but also how important and/or rare breaks and holds are in a given game. Individual teams average from 10.4 to 12.9 holds per game while they average from 3.1 to 10.9 breaks per game. If you tally, say, seven breaks against Seattle, the numbers suggest that they could tally eight breaks against you. If you tally that same seven breaks against Boston, the numbers suggest that they could be stuck at five breaks against you. Of course, if you get three breaks against anyone, you are unlikely to win.
It isn’t as though you can just get to seven breaks against Boston and then sit on your hands for the rest of the game, but it can be informative in terms of what a team’s goals should be going into the game. This can, in turn, inform the amount of risky play necessary to beat a given opponent.
Veggies? Fruits? Yogurts?
Something light and possibly a positive decision.
I thought about using a lot of clips from the Current at Whitecaps in this section, but really… there is only one:
I find this so rewatchable not only because it set the tone for what is one of the windiest MLU games in history, but because it came at the expense of a quality thrower like Dave Baer.
Oh. On second thought, let’s include this gem thrown by Zach Norrbom as well. Note the failure of no fewer than five receivers to catch this one as it sailed back to Norrbom.
This is no knock on the throwers in these selections from the game. It was exceedingly windy. That’s not gonna stop the rest of us from getting our laughs in!
Waffles or Pancakes?
Choose… but choose wisely.
Down to the last week of the season, and the race for first is alive:
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.
Technically, anyone called not-Tom can win it, with four games going on this weekend. That said, it is unlikely that anyone can make up four or five games because our picks this season have been rather aligned, on the whole.
Luke’s 21 exact picks are the outlier to me and the most remarkable part of the whole set of predictions. And, to be clear: We’ll be picking throughout the playoffs as well. So, this weekend will only determine the regular season title, not the overall title.
Beverage of Choice
Players or matchups to watch.
Portland and Seattle Versus Showing Their Hands
I really have no idea what to expect in this game. Anything could happen. Look for both teams to play rather vanilla sets, but with both of these teams “Vanilla” means points! Perhaps we can see some over-hucking and some some chancy looks as the results of the weekend will not affect the playoffs? Then again, Portland can complete there first ever undefeated season against Western Opponents and, indeed, it would be the first undefeated season for any team against the West. Well, I mean except for how the East has gone undefeated against the West in every season to put their cross-conference record at 5-0.
Vancouver and San Francisco Battle for the Not-Basement
The Nighthawks could avoid their first fourth place finish with a win, while the Dogfish, with a loss, would finish fourth for the third consecutive season. On top of that, if the Dogfish lose, they will be the sole owners of a 9-game losing streak over MLU history. On top of that, each of these teams has only won against the other in 2016 and whomever wins gets to win at least one series on the season. This game has potential to be the most exciting game of the weekend both in terms of meaningful outcomes and unusual play. Both teams turn the disc over a ton and have nothing to lose. I think this one will go down to the very end.
The Place to Be
Personally, I’ll be…
… In D.C. watching Philly’s visit to The District. We’ll be at Woodrow Wilson High School, which is a new MLU venue, but a long time frisbee haunt. While I’m curious to see what each team whips out for this one and have done all of my prep work as usual, in all honesty my mind is wandering ahead to Game Seven on the NBA Finals. The best value in sports for all of 2015-2016 was the Golden State Warriors and their insane shotmaking, but the best basketball player on the planet happens to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers! I really don’t have much insight to prattle on about for this game (there are far more qualified folks than me on the topic of basketball) but I can say this: I will sit down and watch this game from beginning to end rapt with attention. In basketball it is called a court because it is where you’re judged.