ATTENTION, READERS in the 28 EUROPEAN VAT COUNTRIES: Because of the new VAT law, you probably can't order books direct from my site now. But that's okay -- just go to my Smashwords author page.
You can order PDFs (as well as all the other ebook formats) from there.

Friday, August 6, 2010

If I Ran the Rankings Systems...

It's been nearly two weeks since the Constructivist over at Mostly Harmless put up this cool post about the women's race for #1 in the Rolex Ratings. In fact, I linked to it in my Women's British Open preview post last week because he had some ideas why I had guessed wrong on some of the players' moves up the rankings.

TC and I passed some comments back and forth on that post because he asked about my thoughts on ranking players and, after I posted them, he replied, "I like these ideas--sound like they're worth a post or 3 at your blog!"

So here they are. And the reason I'm posting them is because I think they offer a different approach to a PGA issue that's popped up again this week -- namely, encouraging the top players to show up at events that my be struggling a bit from lack of star power. Here's my original comment, in full:
To me, the biggest problem with the ranking systems is lack of agreement. What exactly are we ranking?

Take the PGA rankings as an example. The only thing everybody agrees on is that Tiger is (or at least has been) the best player in the world. Now, with Tiger struggling to get his life back in order, should he still be #1 in the rankings? Do the rankings tell us who are the best players... or just the hottest players? The rankings cover two years, but give extra weight to the last three months... so when did these players really deserve their position? And if you have minimum or maximum divisors, aren't you tinkering with the actual results each player should have?

Without getting into a lot of detail, I'd like to see a few changes to the system, regardless of what tour is being ranked:

1) I'd like to see two different sets of ranking figures -- one that covers two years, and one that covers six months. Call them a consistency list and a hot list. Comparing them would give us a better picture of who is playing consistently vs who is on a run. You could also use the hot lists to determine if a player who looks consistent just had a hot run that skews the long-term figures.

2) Don't reduce point values over time. With two different rankings covering different time periods, we can use the same simple math to keep track of things. If you're hot and stay hot, your half-year and two-year stats match; if you cool off, your two-year stat is higher than your half-year; and if you're cold then heat up, your half-year stat is better than your two-year. Simple math now not only tells your stats, but your trend as well -- something the current complex system can't do with any clarity.

3) I think the whole idea of minimum divisors should be trashed. If you're meeting the minimum playing requirements for your tour, you shouldn't be penalized just because someone else wants to play every week. By the same token, maximum divisors skew the figures the other way. Use the actual number of tournaments a player plays to figure their ranking.

4) Point values for tournaments should be adjusted for strength of field... but don't get stupid about it. Except for majors, which should give more points because they're more important, give all the other tournaments the same number of points but use a simple strength of field adjustment.

Here's an example: Let's say we've settled on 100 points for the winner of non-major events. If any of the Top 5 players show up, give the full 100 points. If the top player is between 6 and 12, reduce points by 5% (so the winner now gets 95). Between 13 and 25, reduce by 10%; between 26 and 50, by 15%; below 51, by 20%. Now everybody knows exactly how many points are available at a given event. And if, say, Phil decides to show up at this week's Greenbrier Classic and everybody else is lower than 51 but one of them beats him, they get full points because they beat one of the big boys. Events then become "upper tier" or "lower tier" based on who shows up, not who sponsors the event.

I think this could also have a beneficial effect on sponsors. Once points can be affected so much by one player, it's in the other players' best interests to spread themselves around -- something the tours often have trouble getting the name players to do -- because just one player who wants to move up in the rankings can show up at a "lower tier" event and turn it into a "higher tier" event, grabbing some extra points if he can win it. Strategy -- how you choose which events you play in -- now becomes a factor in your ability to move up in the rankings. You want to reach the top of BOTH rankings at the same time! This benefits both the lower-ranked players and the sponsors, who won't complain.

That's what I'd like to see. It's easy to understand, easy to figure... and maybe a bit subversive, but I think it would give us a lot more useful info than we get now.
As far as my two-list system goes, I really like the idea. You could argue that the short-term list should be three months rather than six; but the important thing is that there are two lists, each measuring a different aspect of the game with simple math, and giving us a better picture of whether a player is on the upswing or the downswing of playing well. And by having two lists, you eliminate the need to devalue events over time, since the short-term list accomplishes the same purpose.

Likewise, you get credit for how many events you play -- no more, no less. Like I said, if you meet the minimum playing requirements of your tour, that should be good enough. I should add that if you don't meet the minimum, then I'm ok with a minimum divisor that equals the requirement -- ie., if you're supposed to play 15 tournaments this year and you only play 12, then we add 3 events with no points to fulfill your requirement... and we put an asterisk by your ranking so others know there's a penalty involved. (If you aren't a member of a tour, you have no minimum requirement, so your total is your divisor. If, for example, a player is trying to make the tour on exemptions and plays his allowed 6 events, then you rank him for 6 tournaments.)

Obviously, my 4th point is what applies to the PGA debate going on right now. Like I said, it's a little subversive. Let's say #2 in the world (no particular player) wants to make a run at #1 (no particular player), so he shows up at two or three lower-tier events where sub-60 players are, thus jacking up the point values for those tournaments. That's right -- using my example above, it only takes one Top-5 player to jack the point value of a win from 80 to 100. And not only does the winner get big points, all the positions get big points! All the lower-tier players benefit from this one player showing up.

Of course, the top players wouldn't all start loading the fields at the lower-tier events, but suddenly it's in the best interests of the name players to show up at one or two... and to try and spread it around, so they aren't going directly against each other all the time. If two or three name players show up at a "small" event, they have a better chance of gaining ground in the rankings... and all the lower-ranked players benefit from the extra points. And if no big name has signed up for a given "small" event, then some smart ranking-climber will put in a last-minute registration to try and nab a freebie!

Plus -- and I think this may be a consideration for the name players -- by giving prime points at any tournament that a prime player shows up for, you eliminate the idea of punishment (that the big player has to play an event that won't help his rankings much). Now the name player is rewarded for showing up at those events.

That's how I'd change the rankings. Think that might stir the pot up a bit?


  1. I like it--simple is good. But if you check out the comments thread on the other post we've been talking about rankings on--

    --you'll see I just ran with your idea and came up with a complex system. Or maybe just one that modifies your simple system, simply, after a series of calculations based on a complex formula that in the end could be used to adjust the winner's score up or down. There's probably a simpler way to do it than I laid out over there, maybe one that involves a bonus point for each of certain criteria. But first I want to get your reaction to the idea itself. I thought it was pretty good as I was typing it, but you know how that can go!

  2. (after re-reading comments)

    You've added some thoughts since I read the post last night, TC. I like where you're going with it... but it certainly points out why you and HoundDog are better at this stuff than me. I never would have thought of all those ways to gauge the quality of a win. I added my ideas to the comments; obviously mine were less comprehensive than yours.

    For those of you reading this post, rather than repeat all those comments I'll just recommend you pop over to the Mostly Harmless post TC lists above. My idea for gauging the value of a win is called the "3/6/9 Bump."

  3. Oh good - TWO rankings systems...which actually a 4th ranking system. World ranking, money list, Fed Ex points...and now a 6 month ranking system. Fine - no problem - now you'll have to answer questions about which one is the true #1. Now we have a boxing scenario with 4 different belts, but none would actually be THE #1.

    I think you just want to see someone else's name at the top of the list. :-)

  4. Remember this, Court... none of these systems can tell who is THE #1. If they could, we wouldn't have the Jack vs. Tiger debate. All they tell us is, according to certain criteria (cash or wins or whatever), who is PLAYING the best at any given point in time. (And I would add that rankings like money list, FedEx, etc., are limited to individual tours. Only the World rankings are a "trans-tour" list.)

    Actually, I envision my two-list system as a replacement for the World Rankings. And -- pardon my snobbery ;-) -- it clearly tells who is PLAYING the best in the world:

    It's the guy who's on top of BOTH lists. That player is on a hot streak that's lasted at least two years.

    If you've played the best golf for the last two years AND you're the hottest golfer now, there is no question that you're PLAYING the best golf on the planet, is there? I'm pretty sure my system would have had Tiger at the top of both lists until this year... and he's certainly not playing the best now.

  5. why not - like I said - it's boxing all over again. And yes - Nicklaus v Woods would still be going on regardless of any sort of ranking would Nicklaus v Palmer...Snead, Hogan, name it. Rankings don't change favorites.