By: Edward Egros

May 2017

Who Will Win the Dean & DeLuca Invitational?

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Before offering a prediction for who will wear the plaid jacket as the winner of the Dean & DeLuca Invitational, here is a quick recap of the Byron Nelson.

Sergio Garcia, my pick, did have his moments. He did card a 29 for his Back Nine on Saturday. But several mistakes led to an incredible unraveling for his Sunday round. Also, Billy Horschel could have been a more credible dark horse pick, his Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee, which I concluded was the most telling for the Nelson, had him in the Top 50 on the PGA Tour. He missed the cut in his last four tournaments, but for a course that emphasizes the tee shot, it should not be as big a surprise Horschel won, given the unpredictability of the tournament.

And now, the Tour heads to Colonial. This tournament is much easier to predict because history is a better indicator for success. Jordan Spieth finished 2nd, 14th and 7th there before winning the event last year. Eleven men have won multiple titles at Colonial, compared with the five at the Nelson.

Once again, let's look at the winners from 2004-2016, the years "
Strokes Gained" statistics are readily available using ShotLink data. The most predictive component for the Dean & DeLuca is Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green. How golfers do on tee shots on Par-3's and approach shots on Par-4's and Par-5's are most predictive. In fact, Spieth is the only player to rank outside of the Top 75 in this statistic when he won last year. He made up for it with his knowledge and previous success on the course. Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee is also an important indicator, with most players ranking in the Top 50 before competing.

It might be shocking, but the golfer who currently ranks 2nd in Approach-the-Green is Jordan Spieth. Even though he has missed the last two cuts, his approach shots have often not let him down. The next best golfer who is in the tournament field is Webb Simpson. He has only played this event three times. Though he missed the cut his first two appearances, he finished tied for third last year. Spieth has had recent struggles, while Simpson has a couple of Top 20 finishes in two of his last three tournaments. It would not be a surprise for Spieth to repeat as champion, but my pick is Webb Simpson.

Who Will Win the Byron Nelson?

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Last year, Sergio Garcia became just the fifth golfer ever to win multiple titles at the Byron Nelson. Given this tournament has been around since 1944, it shows just how difficult it is to predict this tournament.

It does help the field is stronger than usual; eight of the top 20 golfers in the world will participate, including Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, and of course Sergio. In fact,
Vegas Insider is giving these highly ranked golfers the best odds to win, most notably Johnson at 5/1. On the surface, this mark makes sense, given he has already won three times this year, more than anyone else on Tour.

But as with most golf predictions I have done, I place an emphasis on
strokes gained statistics. These measurements look at how well a golfer does in each phase of his game, compared with the rest of the field. For instance, strokes gained putting looks at how many putts a golfer needs to complete a hole at a specific distance, so if the average golfer needs 1.5 putts to complete a hole from seven feet, 10 inches, the golfer who sinks the putt gains 0.5 strokes, but a two-putt means they lose 0.5 strokes. These totals are then aggregated for the season.

ShotLink data has this information readily available since the 2004 season. Given the renovations TPC Four Seasons made to the course since that year, this time frame may be enough data for us to have a glimpse into what qualities a golfer needs to have to be successful at this particular tournament. I am using four statistics: Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee, Approach-the-Green, Around-the-Green and Putting.

The statistic with the best ranking for success is Off-the-Tee. In other words, how well a golfer does from the tee box on all par-4's and par-5's is the best predictor for winning the Byron Nelson. Here is how golfers ranked in this statistic just before competing in the Nelson:

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Other than Steven Bowditch in 2015, every golfer ranks in the Top 100, often in the Top 60. As of the end of the PLAYERS Championship, here are the top ten golfers in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee

1. Sergio Garcia
2. Dustin Johnson
3. Jon Rahm
4. Tony Finau
5. Bubba Watson
6. Kyle Stanley
7. Patrick Cantlay
8. Justin Rose
9. Hideki Matsuyama
10. Hudson Swafford

Of these ten, only Garcia, Johnson, Finau and Swafford are competing. Finau and Swafford have played this event far fewer times and Swafford has never finished in the Top 30. As for the other two players, Johnson has played at the Nelson seven times and has averaged a score of 68.54, including four "Top Ten" finishes. Garcia has played the event 12 times, has averaged a score of 69.07 and has the same number of "Top Ten" finishes. The difference is, Garcia has won the Byron Nelson twice and also has a third-place finish.

The volatility of this tournament might make this exercise seem foolish, but history does show, three of the five multiple winners won in back-to-back years. I am picking Sergio Garcia to become the fourth to win back-to-back Byron Nelson championships.

The Cleveland Browns Won the Draft

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You may already be thinking: "Of course the Cleveland Browns had a great draft! They had the number one pick! Myles Garrett was the obvious move! You can't screw that up!"

You haven't been keeping up with the Browns, have you?

Cleveland picked a defensive end from Texas A&M who was so respected in College Station, two assistant coaches came to his draft party in Arlington to present him with a framed jersey (Garrett is also the Aggies' first-ever number one overall pick). During the combine, as
NFL Research pointed out, Garrett is:

  • Taller than Julio Jones
  • Heavier than Rob Gronkowski
  • Quicker than Devonta Freeman
  • Faster than Jarvis Landry
Cleveland could have drafted a quarterback like Mitch Trubisky or DeShaun Watson, but instead went with the pass rusher. Nothing is a guarantee when it comes to who will have the best NFL career, and the Browns have had failures with top picks in the last several years (i.e. Trent Richardson, Johnny Manziel, Justin Gilbert, etc.) What matters here is how much value the Browns acquired simply with moves they made in the draft.

NFL Draft charts have been around since
Jimmy Johnson and the Dallas Cowboys popularized their own in the 1990s. As sports analytics have become more commonplace, others have come out with their own. But one that is worth noting is a chart by Michael Schuckers of St. Lawrence University. Using games started, Schuckers used a LOESS function to assign value to each pick (to read his entire paper, click here). Here is the table he came up with:

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What Schuckers extrapolated from his study was that teams tend to overvalue earlier picks and undervalue later ones. The Cleveland Browns seemed to believe the same thing, and stockpiled multiple draft picks in the last couple of years. Here are the trades they made and how much value they acquired, using the chart:

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Note: + is a second round pick to be determined
++ is a first round pick to be determined

Because two of these picks are undetermined, I used the lowest possible value and added that to the Minimum Known Value Added column, when applicable. Even by doing that, every move the Browns made added value to their draft class. Here is who the Browns drafted last year and how many games they started, in parenthesis:

  • WR Corey Coleman (10)
  • DE Emmanuel Ogbah (16)
  • DE Carl Nassib (3)
  • OT Shon Coleman (10)
  • QB Cody Kessler (8)
  • LB Joe Schobert (4)
  • WR Ricardo Louis (3)
  • S Derrick Kindred (5)
  • TE Seth DeValve (2)
  • WR Jordan Payton (0)
  • OT Spencer Drango (0)
  • WR Rashard Higgins (0)
  • CB Trey Caldwell (0)
  • ILB Scooby Wright III (0)
Combined, this draft class has 61 starts. Yes, this draft class was part of a 1-15 team, bad enough to acquire the top pick in the 2017 draft, but these rookies beat out more experienced players, so it might be safe to say Cleveland did not have much talent before this approach.

The Browns drafted 10 players this year, and currently have a dozen picks for next year's draft. Myles Garrett can be a complete bust, and the Browns have enough insurance, in the form of younger players, to keep going. But if Garrett is as advertised, not only will the Browns have won this year's NFL Draft, they will start winning a lot more games.