TullyRunners -  Article


Outside The Box

by Bill Meylan (December 23, 2011)


Several things prompted this article ... I had some free time at my real job (the main reason), various e-mail correspondences and discussions, and something I heard on the Internet.

Two different but related topics are addressed based on e-mail inquiries:
 .. (1) my tendency to ďthink outside the boxĒ, as one person described it.
 .. (2) my impression of final ranking lists for cross country 2011 ... primarily, my thoughts on the final rankings for Laura Leff (West Genesee).

Thinking Outside the Box

I correspond with various people and get some interesting e-mail inquiries. Sometimes my responses surprise people ... as one person noted, "you seem to be thinking outside the box (way outside the box), and sometimes what you post your web-site and what you say in private are two different things" ... Thatís probably true in some respects.

I like thinking outside the box ... But sometimes "my box" is not the same box as most people in high school cross country. For example, I have always approached "speed ratings" as a data source for betting money, but thatís not the end-game for most people involved in high school ... An "intermediate" use of speed ratings is ranking runners (and teams) by the raw numbers ... And thatís precisely the application for my NY Girls XC Leaderboard ... Itís one method of evaluating what runners have done (just like a track & field leaderboard).

Two different boxes are involved with respect to speed ratings: (1) a box that looks at performances already accomplished versus (2) an evaluation that looks into the future ... And as any horse handicapper knows, these MAY be two very different things ... My end-game has always been handicapping.

Here are two phrases I have used in dozens of e-mail responses:
 .. (1) speed ratings are a runner-to-runner comparison; they are NOT a runner-to-course comparison.
 .. (2) a single speed rating is NOT a measure of how good a runner is ... it is simply a measure of how fast they ran on one particular day relative to other runners ... This is really important when looking outside the handicapping box ... I never derive speed ratings based on "how good I think" any individual runner may be (that can lead to inaccuracies which results in losing money which is a failure of my end-game).

Occasionally, I don't "like" my speed ratings for specific races even when they are an accurate statistical derivation ... I just accept it and consider it during the "future" handicapping phase ... Not surprisingly, the raw numbers for these rare races (which I still post) generate e-mail inquiries.

And occasionally, my evaluation of the raw numbers does not jive with the numbers themselves ... In part, the "outside the box" viewer comment was sent to me when I responded to a question about Jillian Fanning (FM), which leads directly to the next topic.

Forensic Handicapping ... Forensic handicapping is looking at the data and weighing the pros and cons in terms of making a bet. Doing this publicly is different with respect to horses or high school runners ... For high school, posting the "pros" is fine, but people (coaches, runners, parents) take offense when the "cons" are posted (as I discovered in the past even though no offense is intended), so I try to limit the "cons" whenever possible.

In my NXN 2011 preview, I had the American Fork boys ranked as the #2 "morning-line" team (which was necessary based on their excellent performance at the NXN-SW regional), but as noted in the team write-ups, it would be hard to bet money on them based on prior results at Portland Meadows (that was their major "con") ... The raw numbers put American Fork in a virtual tie with CBA and Southlake Carroll, but my handicapping evaluation indicated "No Bet" (e.g. probably not a podium team).

For NXN Nationals 2011, my speed ratings had Jillian Fanning (FM) rated as the morning-line favorite ... the ESPN (DyeStat) Individual Rankings (by Steve Underwood) had Jillian Fanning ranked as #1 in the nation ... The e-mail inquiry regarding Fanning came from a coach asking if I thought Fanning would win easily and by how much?

My response ... Jillian Fanning is great runner and deserves to be the favorite, but I don't expect her to win ... If she was the betting favorite in a wagering pool, I would not bet her and here's why ... She's raced twice at NXN Portland Meadows and in both prior races, she had average to below average races with respect to her whole season despite very good finishes at NXN (note ... her seasonal performances are posted on the NY Girls All-State page) ... The individual field at NXN is strong which makes it hard to win with an average performance ... that's the brief forensic overview.

Despite a slightly below average performance (e.g. speed relative to other runners), Jillian Fanning still finished 4th at NXN 2011 which indicates how good she really is (which is exceptionally good) ... I brought this up for additional reason - it provides some input into the level of the performances at the top-end of NXN 2011, which leads to the individual ranking list inquiries regarding Laura Leff.

Individual Girl Rankings

Laura Leff (West Genesee) finished an outstanding 3rd at Footlocker Nationals ... However, she was ranked only 16th in the Final ESPN-DyeStat Rankings ... In addition, she was not even the top ranked sophomore in several NY lists ... Inquiring viewers asked my opinion.

Concerning the NY Sophomore Rankings ... Laura Leff was ranked behind Mary Cain (Bronxville) on three lists:
.. (1) MileSplit NY All-State List
.. (2) Dan Doherty's NY Runners-of-the-Year
.. (3) Final TullyRunners Girls Leaderboard (by a fraction of a point)

The determining factor was Mary Cain's win over Laura Leff at the NY Federation Championships ... Head-to-head results at the championship race should be the prime determining factor ... Cain popped the 3rd fastest time ever at Bowdoin Park in this race ... Leff finished 2nd and her race time (18:09) would have placed her 15th on the All-Time Bowdoin Park, but she was already 12th on the list (at 18:03) which less than a second behind Molly Huddle and within 6 seconds of Emily Lipari, Hannah Davidson and the Winslow twins.

So I have no problem with Mary Cain being ranked ahead of  Laura Leff based on this head-to-head race ... Side-Note: the Federation race was (by far) Mary Cain's best race of season ... her two best races came at Bowdoin Park which is a local course for Section 1 runners ... I didn't think Portland Meadows would be great course for Cain and her running style, but my expectations rose when I saw Portland Meadows might be somewhat "dry" on race day ... In my opinion, Mary Cain might be exceptional good on the dry hills and avenues of Balboa Park.

Concerning the Final ESPN-DyeStat Rankings ... It did not surprise me Laura Leff was ranked only 16th on this list ... But that comes with some understanding of how those rankings are done and by who.

The ESPN-DyeStat Rankings for individuals are done by Steve Underwood ... he is a very knowledgeable guy that has done some excellent work for ESPN High school (and DyeStat before that) ... His rankings have the benefit of some explanations that allow insights into how he derived the rankings ... Briefly, his rankings are a combination of subjective judgment and actual results.

Whenever subjective judgment is a major player, the rankings become one person's opinion ... and there's nothing wrong with that, because sometimes that's the whole purpose (inquiring minds want to know somebody's opinion).

Steve Underwood was doing weekly rankings during the season, and he did individual projections for Footlocker and NXN ... Prior to NXN Nationals, Steve had the opinion that the NXN girl's top-end was substantially stronger than the Footlocker top-end ... At that time, I also thought the NXN field was stronger than the Footlocker field (note - edited to correct original statement).

To make a long story short, Steve stills believes the NXN field was vastly superior to the Footlocker field ... Only three girls who actually ran Footlocker Finals are ranked in his top 15, so that's clearly the driving force ... The second driving force is a believe in the superiority of California girls compared to the rest of the nation.

Karlie Garcia (Oakmount CA) is ranked 11th in Steve's list ... she finished 5th at Footlocker, behind Laura Leff (3rd) and Abbey Leonardi (4th) who are ranked 16th and 17th in Steve's list ... Head-to-head results in this national championship race didn't matter (It's just coincidence that a California girl was ranked ahead of the NY girl despite losing to her) ... Steve ranks CA girls 10th, 11th and 12th and seems to note that seasonal performance in California carries more weight in his rankings than Footlocker itself ... Steve picked Garcia to finish 2nd at Footlocker.

Just my opinion ...  I was surprised by the Footlocker girls results ... They ran much better than I expected ... They had a number of exceptional performances where NXN had some good performances, but nothing exceptional in the top group ... I would have the Footlocker girls ranked much higher, but what does a biased New Yorker know?

Honestly, the reason I decide to write this article are two examples where respected people involved with NXN-ESPN demonstrate their belief in California superiority ... The second example leaves no doubt ... This makes me feel content because one top California runner sent me an e-mail and thought I had a "California Paranoia" with respect to at-large selections ... I tried saying "California Paranoia" fast three times, but kept stumbling, so I figure she's correct.

The second example can be found on the ESPN-DyeStat web-site at the DyeCast Webcast XC Week 13 web-link (also known as the Rich Gonzalez and Nicole Haynes show) ... Rich Gonzalez is a major player in NXN for various things (some of you exactly what I'm talking about) ... He does a great job providing analysis during the NXN National race webcast ... During the DyeCast Webcast XC Week 13 show, Rich talks about Sarah Baxter (Simi Valley CA) who won NXN.

Sarah Baxter is an exceptional runner ... I can not complain about her being ranked #1 in the nation ... If I was picking a team for next year, I would select her as my first choice ... But Rich said something that caught my attention ... he said last year Sarah Baxter was "at least as good as Aisling Cuffe" ... Sarah Baxter was a great freshman last year, but apparently I missed the races where she performed at or above the level of Aisling Cuffe ... My "California Paranoia" is kicking in again.





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