Thursday, October 02, 2008

Does Finishing the Regular Season "Hot" Matter?

Momentum. The MLS playoff situation is 2008 is tight, with many teams bunched together. One (or more) of the teams in the pack will inevitably put together a few wins to end the season, and they'll be referred to by the fans and media as the hot team, the one no one wants to play. But does that have any affect on the ultimate outcome of a team's season?

There's a few examples of a team getting hot late in the season and making a run. Like DC United in 2004, after they acquired Christian Gomez, and New England in 2002 after they hired Steve Nicol. Are those cases the exception or the rule?

To attempt to measure this, I have gone through and figured out the records for every MLS playoff team in their final five games of the regular season. To start, let's look at the 96 playoff teams by PPG.

Disclaimer: Now obviously there's a lot of flaws with this type of analysis. Such as the number of home/away games, top teams possibly resting players, whether or not the teams they faced had anything to play for, etc. Keep that in mind while reading this.

Teams in blue won the MLS Cup, teams in red were runners up. Shootouts are counted as draws. Ties in the rankings are broken by the traditional soccer tiebreakers (goal differential, then goals scored).

MLS Momentum?: Record over final five games of the regular season




GP W L D Pts PPG GF GA GD
1 2003 New England 5 5 0 0 15 3.000 15 6 9
2 1997 Los Angeles 5 5 0 0 15 3.000 12 4 8
3 2002 New England 5 4 0 1 13 2.600 11 2 9
4 2000 Chicago 5 4 0 1 13 2.600 15 7 8
5 1996 Tampa Bay 5 4 0 1 13 2.600 11 3 8
6 2006 New England 5 4 0 1 13 2.600 9 3 6
7 2003 Kansas City 5 4 0 1 13 2.600 10 5 5
8 2001 Chicago 5 4 0 1 13 2.600 9 4 5
9 1999 Dallas 5 4 0 1 13 2.600 9 5 4
10 1996 Columbus 5 4 1 0 12 2.400 10 2 8
11 2001 Miami 5 4 1 0 12 2.400 15 8 7
12 2001 Los Angeles 5 4 1 0 12 2.400 13 7 6
13 2002 Los Angeles 5 4 1 0 12 2.400 7 2 5
14 1998 Colorado 5 4 1 0 12 2.400 13 9 4
15 2004 DC United 5 4 1 0 12 2.400 8 4 4
16 2005 San Jose 5 3 0 2 11 2.200 10 4 6
17 2005 Colorado 5 3 0 2 11 2.200 7 3 4
18 2004 Kansas City 5 3 0 2 11 2.200 4 1 3
19 2005 DC United 5 3 1 1 10 2.000 12 6 6
20 1998 Los Angeles 5 3 1 1 10 2.000 9 4 5
21 2007 Houston 5 3 1 1 10 2.000 8 3 5
22 2002 Colorado 5 3 1 1 10 2.000 10 7 3
23 1996 Los Angeles 5 3 1 1 10 2.000 9 7 2
24 2003 Chicago 5 3 1 1 10 2.000 11 10 1
25 1997 New England 5 3 1 1 10 2.000 9 8 1
26 2004 New England 5 3 2 0 9 1.800 10 5 5
27 2001 Columbus 5 3 2 0 9 1.800 9 6 3
28 1998 Chicago 5 3 2 0 9 1.800 9 7 2
29 2001 New York 5 3 2 0 9 1.800 8 6 2
30 2004 Columbus 5 2 0 3 9 1.800 7 5 2
31 2000 Kansas City 5 2 0 3 9 1.800 5 3 2
31 2007 Chicago 5 2 0 3 9 1.800 5 3 2
33 1996 DC United 5 3 2 0 9 1.800 9 8 1
34 2000 New England 5 3 2 0 9 1.800 7 7 0
35 2000 Dallas 5 3 2 0 9 1.800 10 11 -1
36 1996 New York 5 3 2 0 9 1.800 7 8 -1
36 2006 Chicago 5 3 2 0 9 1.800 7 8 -1
38 1999 DC United 5 2 1 2 8 1.600 8 7 1
39 2005 New England 5 2 1 2 8 1.600 5 5 0
40 1999 Columbus 5 2 1 2 8 1.600 7 8 -1
41 2001 San Jose 5 2 2 1 7 1.400 10 6 4
41 2002 Columbus 5 2 2 1 7 1.400 10 6 4
43 1997 Columbus 5 2 2 1 7 1.400 7 4 3
44 1997 DC United 5 2 2 1 7 1.400 11 9 2
45 2006 Houston 5 1 0 4 7 1.400 6 5 1
46 2000 Colorado 5 2 2 1 7 1.400 9 9 0
47 2000 New York 5 2 2 1 7 1.400 12 13 -1
48 2001 Dallas 5 2 2 1 7 1.400 10 11 -1
49 1999 Miami 5 2 2 1 7 1.400 9 10 -1
50 2006 New York 5 2 2 1 7 1.400 8 9 -1
51 2005 New York 5 2 2 1 7 1.400 7 8 -1
52 1997 Kansas City 5 2 2 1 7 1.400 7 9 -2
53 2005 Los Angeles 5 2 2 1 7 1.400 8 11 -3
54 1997 Tampa Bay 5 2 2 1 7 1.400 7 10 -3
55 2007 DC United 5 1 1 3 6 1.200 8 6 2
56 1999 Los Angeles 5 2 3 0 6 1.200 8 7 1
57 2000 Los Angeles 5 2 3 0 6 1.200 6 5 1
58 1996 San Jose 5 1 1 3 6 1.200 8 8 0
58 2007 New York 5 1 1 3 6 1.200 8 8 0
60 2005 Dallas 5 1 1 3 6 1.200 6 6 0
61 2007 Chivas USA 5 1 1 3 6 1.200 5 5 0
62 1998 Miami 5 2 3 0 6 1.200 11 13 -2
63 2002 Dallas 5 2 3 0 6 1.200 9 11 -2
64 1997 Dallas 5 2 3 0 6 1.200 5 7 -2
65 2006 Dallas 5 2 3 0 6 1.200 9 13 -4
66 1998 Dallas 5 2 3 0 6 1.200 6 11 -5
67 2001 Kansas City 5 2 3 0 6 1.200 5 10 -5
68 1998 DC United 5 1 2 2 5 1.000 13 11 2
69 2000 Tampa Bay 5 1 2 2 5 1.000 10 11 -1
70 2007 New England 5 1 2 2 5 1.000 8 9 -1
71 2004 Los Angeles 5 1 2 2 5 1.000 3 4 -1
72 2003 New York 5 1 2 2 5 1.000 6 8 -2
72 2003 San Jose 5 1 2 2 5 1.000 6 8 -2
74 1999 Chicago 5 1 2 2 5 1.000 5 7 -2
75 2006 Chivas USA 5 1 2 2 5 1.000 3 6 -3
76 2004 Colorado 5 1 2 2 5 1.000 6 10 -4
77 1999 Tampa Bay 5 1 3 1 4 0.800 8 9 -1
78 2003 Los Angeles 5 1 3 1 4 0.800 6 7 -1
79 2007 Kansas City 5 1 3 1 4 0.800 5 6 -1
80 2004 San Jose 5 0 1 4 4 0.800 3 4 -1
81 2004 New York 5 1 3 1 4 0.800 7 9 -2
82 2005 Chicago 5 1 3 1 4 0.800 4 7 -3
83 2007 Dallas 5 1 3 1 4 0.800 4 8 -4
84 2002 Kansas City 5 1 3 1 4 0.800 5 10 -5
85 2003 DC United 5 0 2 3 3 0.600 5 7 -2
86 2006 DC United 5 1 4 0 3 0.600 7 10 -3
87 2006 Colorado 5 0 2 3 3 0.600 5 8 -3
88 2002 Chicago 5 1 4 0 3 0.600 5 9 -4
89 1997 Colorado 5 1 4 0 3 0.600 7 12 -5
90 1996 Kansas City 5 0 2 3 3 0.600 5 10 -5
91 2002 San Jose 5 1 4 0 3 0.600 6 12 -6
92 2003 Colorado 5 0 3 2 2 0.400 9 13 -4
93 1999 Colorado 5 0 3 2 2 0.400 0 7 -7
94 1996 Dallas 5 0 4 1 1 0.200 5 10 -5
95 1998 Columbus 5 0 4 1 1 0.200 8 14 -6
96 1998 New York 5 0 4 1 1 0.200 4 13 -9

Interestingly, the bottom two teams played in each other in the first round that year. Only one champion had a losing record (2003 SJ), and only twice has the champion been the hottest team that year (2004, 2007). In 7/12 years, the runner up did better than the title winner.

But of course the winners are up there in the top half, because they usually have better records for the entire regular season. The thing that really interests me, though, is whether or not you could use this in the first round matchups. Do teams higher in the rankings win more of the series compared to the normal seedings? Let's see.


1st Round Playoff Matchups - Seeds vs Momentum


Seeds Momentum
1996 3-1 4-0
1997 1-3 1-3
1998 4-0 2-2
1999 4-0 4-0
2000 3-1 3-1
2001 3-1 3-1
2002 2-2 4-0
2003 4-0 4-0
2004 3-1 4-0
2005 1-3 2-2
2006 3-1 2-2
2007 2-2 2-2



Total 33-15 35-13

Seeded teams won 33 of 48 first round or quarterfinal series, for a total of 68.8%. Teams with a better PPG in the final five games won 35 of 48 times, or 72.9%. So that's slightly better, but not much of a difference.

Which playoff series differed between the two factors?


Seeds predicted correctly, but not "Momentum"

1997 DC over NE
1998 DC over MIA
1998 CHI over COL
2000 NY over DAL
2006 DC over NY
2007 NE over NY

All of these teams were considered favorites to win.


"Momentum" predicted correctly, but not Seeds

1996 KC over DAL
1997 CLB over TB
2000 LA over TB
2002 CLB over SJ
2002 COL over DAL
2004 NE over CLB
2005 COL over DAL
2007 CHI over DC

Some of these were between very even teams. Of the recent upsets, many people expected the Fire to win last year, but few thought the same of the Revs or Rapids in 2004-05.

What if we look at the difference in the number of points in those final five games between the first round opponents? You would think the bigger the difference, the more likely the winner...


Difference in "Momentum"

Diff Times Right/Wrong
0 5 5-0
1 7 5-2
2 6 3-3
3 5 2-3
4 11 8-3
5 1 1-0
6 4 3-1
7 2 2-0
8 3 3-0
9 1 0-1
10 2 2-0
11 1 1-0

The biggest upsets in terms of difference in momentum are 1997 Dallas over LA and 2005 Chicago over DC. If you split it up into differences of one game or less versus more than one game:

Diff Times Right/Wrong
0-3 23 15-8
4-11 25 20-5

That looks pretty impressive, but only 3 of the 8 series that the momentum got and seeds didn't featured differences of 4+ points. So it's not impressive, really.

But how about if we looked at GF, GA, and GD instead of PPG? How would those fair as predictors? The only interesting thing I found was that higher seeded teams who also had a better GD in the final five games were 26-7, which is pretty good.


Conclusion

I don't think that the momentum over the last few games matters much, unless it's the byproduct of a big change in the team. Such as a new head coach or a star player arriving. Then, you can see a truly better team (which has probably been apparent for more than those final few games anyway).

There's plenty of room here for deeper research. I'll have to look for articles about momentum going into the playoffs in other sports. Is there a 2000 Yankees every 2007 Rockies?

Comments on "Does Finishing the Regular Season "Hot" Matter?"

 

Blogger henryo said ... (11:03 AM, October 02, 2008) : 

2002/03 NE had classic push into the playoffs, prior to those 5 games they were stuck at the bottom of conference, but went on to win ('02) or finished 2nd ('03) in the end!

 

Anonymous thomas said ... (1:21 PM, October 16, 2008) : 

There is an interesting factor which I don't think you've accounted for here.

The earlier a team has qualified for the playoffs the less emphasis is placed on momentum.

Look at Columbus this year for example, they've been able to protect Schelotto from playing on plastic pitches and allow him to recuperate from injury as he is their star performer and this tactic must count in their favor as they attempt to win the cup.

The later a team qualifies the more significant momentum is purely because they need to get into the playoffs in the first place.

So perhaps the final ten matches of the regular season would provide a better statistical correlation.

 

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