Cantonmetrics: Introduction

The Baseball Hall of Fame may be the oldest, most prestigious, and iconic of all of sports’ halls of fame, but the Pro Football Hall of Fame might be the most fun to speculate about. The Baseball Hall places all of its eligible players that haven’t fallen below a certain voting threshold on a single ballot and then asks its voters to choose no more than ten, resulting in massive backlogs that only get worse with time; the Football Hall, by contrast, iteratively narrows down its candidates down to 15 finalists and then further narrows that down to five, usually inducting all five at once. Moreover, the 15 finalists are themselves iteratively cut down to ten and then five, and while which players were cut at which stage isn’t always made clear by the Hall itself (especially since the announcement of each year’s class was made part of the NFL Honors show), nonetheless it does provide a template for seeing which players the selection committee is favoring and allows one to predict what the following year’s class will look like. Football is also, somewhat counterintuitively, one of the easier, or at least more fun, sports to fairly compare players’ Hall of Fame credentials, in large part because unlike in other sports, All-Star selections are made at the end of the season and so can incorporate the entire season, rather than giving an unfair boost to players who have strong early seasons but peter out down the stretch, and unlike in baseball, the Pro Bowl doesn’t enforce quotas requiring at least one player be selected from each team, resulting in the best player on crappy teams having their All-Star count inflated.

What makes this somewhat counterintuitive is that, more than in perhaps any other sport (popular with Americans at least), the importance of various players in football varies widely. The quarterback is significantly more prominent than any other position, while special teams players can seem largely anonymous unless what they do is truly special, and then there’s the offensive line, arguably more anonymous than special teams despite being surprisingly important to team success, because they almost never touch the ball and because statistics are generally pretty poor-to-nonexistent at capturing their performance and value. On the topic of statistics, which statistics are relevant can vary widely across positions; quarterbacks and other offensive players that touch the ball can usually be measured by yards and touchdowns, but for passing plays it’s not always clear how much of that can be attributed to the QB and how much to the receiver, and running backs can also have their numbers inflated by a good offensive line. On defense, sacks are all-important to defensive linemen but completely irrelevant to defensive backs, while interceptions are the reverse, and linebackers end up somewhere in the middle; meanwhile, neither of those stats captures players’ ability to stop the run. And more than in most other sports, the meaning of those stats has changed over time as passing has become a more important part of the modern game.

So there aren’t any easy statistical yardsticks to compare players of different positions, or in some cases players in the same positions in different eras, and when it comes to offensive linemen only those that truly obsessively study the film can really tease out whether one player is better than another. And yet in some ways, that’s part of the appeal to me: using what standards we do have to compare players at different positions, to see how a Tom Brady stacks up against a J.J. Watt or a Von Miller against a Julio Jones. Even then those standards are usually applied differently across positions – it takes a lot more for an offensive lineman to get into the Hall than a quarterback – and figuring out how to calibrate those thresholds is part of the fun.

My interest in this area started in 2010, after seeing the NFL Network’s “Top 10” series cover the best players not to make the Hall of Fame, some of which had only been on the ballot one or two years, and coupled with a pair of no-brainer first-ballot picks appearing on the ballot that year in Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith, plus the aforementioned ability to tease out the committee’s thinking on the finalists based on last year’s vote, it allowed me to offer my first prediction for that year’s Hall of Fame class, something I’ve done every January since. Later that year NFL Network ran a multi-week series counting down the top 100 players in NFL history, effectively giving me a whole list of players for me to keep an eye on as they became eligible for induction. (Notably, every eligible player on the list was in the Hall of Fame even though some of the “snubs” on NFLN’s earlier list might have been deserving of spots, especially those that just hadn’t managed to break through into the top five in their limited time on the ballot.) Eventually I found the discussion of players’ Hall of Fame credentials on the Zoneblitz.com website, which introduced me to the notion of All-Decade, first-team All-Pro, and Pro Bowl selections as the primary if not sole predictors of making the Hall of Fame; that led to my Top 50 Active Resumes posts, allowing me to see which players were getting close to the Hall, which ones were already in, and which ones were set to go in first-ballot, in near-real time, but which I eventually abandoned upon realizing I didn’t really have any basis for how I valued the various postseason honors across positions.

Eventually I actually put in the work to determine thresholds for when players would become Hall of Famers or first-ballot selections, and planned to post a link here to a spreadsheet tracking and predicting players’ chances based on that information that I’d update every year, but never did. I may yet do so, but part of what made me lose interest in the spreadsheet was Pro Football Reference coming up with their own Hall of Fame Monitor metric in 2019. Initially I didn’t intend to pay too much attention to it, at most considering it a supplement to determine what players to look at (though I did once use it as an easy way to compare a recently-retired player to others at their position), largely because it was primarily designed around a score of 100 representing the average Hall of Famer at each position, even though the cutoff for getting into the Hall at all was what was probably more important and interesting, and because PFR didn’t offer a way to directly compare Monitor numbers across positions, it left me wondering whether the Monitor was comparable across positions. PFR’s own page explaining the Monitor does seem to treat it as comparable across positions, though, considering 80 as marking the “strongest of the borderline candidates” and 40 as the bare minimum for eventual induction, so part of the purpose of this new section of the site is to make it easier to make such comparisons and use it as a shorthand and at least an initial basis of discussion.

The last twist that shaped this section came over the summer. Previously the Hall of Fame’s senior-committee selections, as well as the selection of coach and contributor candidates as those were moved to separate committees, were essentially black boxes, with the committees simply naming candidates to move directly to the final stage of the larger selection committee’s deliberations at the start of the process, and none of the process that went into selecting those nominees would officially be made public. This year, though, concurrent to moving to three senior selections and one combined coach/contributor selection, the Hall released lists of candidates at each stage of both the senior and coach/contributor processes, including not only lists of finalists, but of semifinalists as well, and even what candidates were eliminated at each stage of considering the finalists, something the Hall has neglected when it comes to the modern-era finalists in recent years. It’s now possible to get nearly as much of a sense of what the senior committee is thinking as it is to get a sense of the committee as a whole. Moreover, it was the clarification of the coach/contributor situation that put the final nail in the coffin of the spreadsheet as being the most important element for the launch of this section; none of the benchmarks used to compare players apply to contributors or even coaches, tipping the balance away from determining people’s Hall of Fame credentials or likelihood of being selected by the committees, and more towards looking at what the committees actually think about them. In other words, while tracking players’ postseason honors and how they translate to Hall of Fame status is still important, so is the history of how far retired players made it through the process each year.

I’m still using the “Cantonmetrics” name I came up with for this section when I still intended to base it around the spreadsheet, even though the metrics are less important than I originally had in mind for it. I’ve populated the new category with my previous prediction and Top 50 Active Resumes posts, as well as other posts relating to the Hall of Fame I’ve written over the years, including my posts on the 2010s All-Decade Team from 2019-20. Going forward I’ll have posts with tables of players selected, and not selected, at each stage of the Hall of Fame process, including their performance in the most important and objective cross-position areas used in the Hall of Fame Monitor metric as well as the metric itself, and the stage each player reached in each of the last five years, starting with the recently-announced list of preliminary nominees sometime in the next 24 hours, serving as a way to provide context and a starting point for discussion, which will likely serve as an overhaul/replacement for my existing prediction posts following the announcement of the finalists. Following the Super Bowl will be a season wrap-up post that will contain a revived and revised version of the Top 50 Active Resumes list with predictions based on the benchmarks I came up with for the spreadsheet, a look at the unselected finalists and strongest first-year candidates for the purpose of looking at next year (including potentially moving each year’s predictions to that point), and other such things. At some point, possibly soon, I’ll put up a page to serve as a larger introduction to this section and the Hall of Fame process more generally, but I probably need to spend a year figuring out exactly how this new system will work and how useful it actually is. This is going to feel surprisingly new for me considering the groundwork that I’ve been laying for it over the course of over a decade, but in many ways that just makes it all the more exciting.

Something a BIT more substantial than the typical streak-filler post.

I’ve moved the site search to the top bar, something I’ve been meaning to do for a while; it just got too irritating having to go almost, but not quite, all the way to the bottom of the page to search my site on mobile. Beyond that nothing much has changed since last month; I have an idea for an entire series of new posts partly inspired by the arrival of Twitter’s pending new owner that would be relevant for me potentially moving to an alternative platform, but given my recent history who knows if I manage to write one word of it in the next month or even two. I feel like if it weren’t for the NFL Draft I’d have managed to put out one of the posts I’ve been working on in the past week, but if you don’t see it in the next week you’ll know I’ve been kidding myself about that.

This is really not a good sign.

So I think I’ve abandoned the notion of jumping back into sports TV ratings almost as quickly as I took it up – it was just going to involve too much work for too little reward – but that hasn’t really helped me to work on anything else. There were at least three different projects I was hoping would result in posts over the course of the last month and none of them really panned out. Some of that can actually be attributed to me doing some work for my dad, which is nominally the only reason I’ve been able to get away without getting a real job, but some of it can definitely be chalked up to me going back into the same bad habits that have bedeviled me over the past several years, including yet another mobile game to monopolize my time. I’m vaguely optimistic I can get some work in on at least one of those posts over the course of the next week or so, but I feel like I’m probably kidding myself, because I always feel like I’m so close to being productive and then I never am. I’ve gotten a bit more of an insight into why I might act this way, but that doesn’t really help me to deal with it and I don’t know if I’d be able to get the help I need to deal with it at my age. I just hope there’s some way out of the tailspin my life has been in over the past several years, and that I find it right soon.

Beijing 2022 Olympics Ratings Roundup

I can’t believe I’m doing this again. I set a goal for me to actually do something productive that might actually make me some money this year, and had a bunch of projects lined up to do over the next few months, and I allowed myself to get sucked in to something that could chew up a lot of time for not much reward. To make matters worse I’m doing it in Google Sheets in the hopes I might be able to share the spreadsheet directly at some point for people to explore the charts on their own, but at the moment it just means it’s a massive memory hog.

But hey, ShowBuzz Daily seems to be more comprehensive than any source I used when doing this in the past, recording viewers and 18-49 ratings for the top 150 original cable programs of each day in the demo, deeper than any source I’ve used in the past that wasn’t restricted to certain networks, as well as viewers, 18-49 viewers, and household ratings for any event at any time on any network (except for ESPNU and a few other, quirky networks), giving me timelier and more complete coverage of daytime sports events on broadcast networks than I’ve ever had before. It’s already had one shutdown scare, but it at least allows me to provide more comprehensive Olympics ratings coverage than the last time I tried this.

Whether or not these numbers are meaningful outside of NBC is another question. In both Tokyo and Beijing NBC opted to have USA present round-the-clock 24/7 coverage, not even interrupted by WWE Monday Night Raw in the case of Beijing (but occasionally interrupted by Premier League coverage). This means there aren’t necessarily any logical “windows” to report ratings for, and how NBC actually did divide the windows for ratings purposes doesn’t necessarily make any sense. NBC had USA’s primetime window align with NBC’s primetime window, and the late-night “Prime Plus” window align with local news and “Prime Plus” on NBC, even if the resulting cutoffs were in the middle of live event coverage. I can sort of see the logic behind that, and I can even see the logic of setting a hard cutoff at 8 AM ET, usually the time when a hockey game would be starting, but the window starting at that time would usually go for six hours, meaning it would be split roughly evenly between live coverage and a few hours of delayed re-airs. I don’t see how that makes sense even from a selling-to-advertisers perspective; few would be watching consistently for that long, and a live hockey game is likely to draw a different audience from taped coverage.

Regardless, this is my attempt to make sense of what was reported on ShowBuzz Daily. This is a list of every window reported there with viewership of over 500,000. Click here to learn more about how to read the charts, but note that that page is now woefully outdated. 

Read moreBeijing 2022 Olympics Ratings Roundup

An actually on-time blog-day.

I’m going to keep it pretty quick for this year’s blog-day post, as with the changes to the NFL schedule it coincides with the most stressful part of the year for the Flex Schedule Watch, when I try to game out the scenarios for the final week two weeks in advance, compounded this year by a) the chaotic playoff situation in both conferences and b) games being postponed by COVID outbreaks to Monday and Tuesday and cutting down on how much time I have to pull it off. I hope to have a post ready before we get too far into the Thursday night game, but I’m not sure I can guarantee it, and I’m flying up to Seattle on Friday so I won’t be able to get much work done then.

That’s on top of all the other ideas for posts I’ve been juggling. I hope to have two non-Flex Schedule Watch posts next week, both on the changing sports television landscape and one of which I’ve been meaning to write for over two months (I may have given up on writing a post about the changes in college sports in the past year), and I might try to get something in on another front in the new year. I also have a couple other ideas for decent-sized projects for me to work on once football season and the Olympics are over.

One way or another, we’re about to hit a critical year in the history of Da Blog. I mentioned before that I intended to boycott the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and while my dad has been willing to try and find ways to accommodate, I’d still feel like a failure if I wasn’t in some way self-supporting by then. (It doesn’t help that the pandemic has made a November-December World Cup more defensible than it was before, making it look like FIFA stumbled into a built-in delay to the qualification schedule.) On top of that, last month I ran out of unemployment deferment eligibility on one of my student loans, and while that’s only $40 a month, it’s still something I have to lean on my parents more for and a sign of just how much I’ve wasted the last half-decade-plus. I either take real steps towards becoming self-sufficient in the new year, or I might as well give up on that. Certainly setting yet another record low for posts – this is only the 23rd post since last year’s blog-day post – isn’t an option anymore.

The good news is that while Year Fifteen was yet another wasted year in the history of Da Blog, I feel oddly more optimistic than I felt last year. I’ve still been spending embarrassingly long spans of time working on posts, but I feel like I’ve still been more productive, or at least have been getting into more of the right headspace to work on them. If I can get into enough of a groove and overcome all the distractions and screwed-up sleep schedules in my life, Year Sixteen may yet prove to be a turning point out of my recent rut. That’s obviously a big if, but it at least feels like more of a possibility than it felt like last year, and it’s certainly worth trying because I don’t know if I want to know what the alternative looks like.

(Okay, so I said I was going to keep it quick but this addendum is going to make it longer than last year’s blog-day post. What can I say, there’s a limit to how short these posts can be, and I did spend only a little over half an hour writing this.)

UGGHH.

I hate having to do a gap-filler post for September. I need to do a season-opening post for the Flex Schedule Watch (people are already starting to leave comments on my last post from last year), and probably would have if not for a perfect storm of circumstances. In the early part of the month I was still thinking I was going to do a post about recent developments in college sports, and then a couple weeks ago I suffered a serious injury I’ve spent most of the intervening time recovering from and in no shape to do any sort of serious thinking.

I might still have gotten something in this week, but I have a lot of work to put into it, more so than normal. I want to say something about the impact of the NFL’s new TV deals on flex scheduling (about which we know frustratingly little), and I have to update the Flex Scheduling Primer for not only that and last year’s developments, but some of the more immediate flex scheduling impacts from the 17-game schedule and ESPN getting a pair of Week 18 games. That’s made it seem like a more daunting task for me to get into than it normally is, and it’s had to compete for my time and attention with various other things, including the fast-approaching NHL season and concurrent debut of new TV partners for that league, which has been an especially big time sink given my newfound emphasis on graphics packages, and mock-ups of same, on Twitter.

None of that is to excuse my lack of posting this month and I absolutely should have gotten that Flex Schedule Watch kick-off post in, and I definitely will get it in in the next week, if only because the protection cut-off point is fast approaching. After that we’ll progress week to week as normal, and I have some ideas for what to do after that (including the return of something long dormant), but whether or not next year is any more productive than the past few years have been is anyone’s guess. (But I sure as heck don’t want to still be living with my dad a year from now, if only because I don’t want to be party to acknowledging the most blatantly corrupt and all-around terrible World Cup host selection ever.)

Second (or gajillionth) verse, same as the first…

I believe I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve found in recent years that I don’t have the brainpower to write formal blog posts that I used to, often needing to load up on protein bars and chug caffeinated drinks to get anything done and even then being ambivalent towards the result. Places like Twitter and Reddit can be more conducive to firing something off on the spur of the moment, so I remain plenty active on those places, but writing an actual blog post can feel like a daunting task. It’s compounded by the fact that I rarely have time to focus on Da Blog, which is an odd thing to say when I rarely if ever do any actual “work” on anything, but I’ve found Twitter, Reddit, and various mobile games tend to take up all of my time, to say nothing of the sort of long-term projects I’ve hinted at in the past. Some of those mobile games aren’t even that fun – I seem to have a habit of getting really tired when I’m playing one particular game, which is a problem because the time that I’m playing it and the period immediately after would probably be the best time for me to get some writing done, but my sleep schedule hasn’t really allowed me to switch to the main alternative time I could go with – but I feel obligated to reach at least a certain point of accomplishment in it.

Speaking of my sleep schedule, I spent most of the time after the Olympics trying to fix it after staying up until the early morning watching some of the later events, but even before I came close to succeeding I started to see signs of how difficult it was to find time and energy to get writing in. I really did want to get a post written about recent news in college sports, but I could only even get started in the last 24 hours, despite running through much of what I wanted to say in my head before that. Sitting down and keeping everything straight, and getting it all organized in a cohesive order while trying to remember everything I want to say, feels like something I need some sort of ritual to get into the right mindset for, and much of what’s been suggested to me doesn’t seem to work.

I will still try to get that post in in the next couple of weeks, and I’ll definitely have a post getting ready for the new NFL season and the implications of the league’s new TV deals for flex scheduling, ideally before the season actually starts. I have one or two other ideas for posts I may try to work on as well, but who knows how or when.

On to the next month, same as the last one…

I did have an idea for a post I wanted to write before the end of the month based on some big news that came out during it, but a web site I was going to use for research is down at the moment and I’ve been spending so much time focusing on the Olympics I don’t even have any other ideas for what to write in this space, so this might be even less informative than these gap-filler posts normally are. I hope to get that post in by the end of next month (though I’m not 100% certain it’ll happen) and of course football season is coming up, but I could have had one less gap-filler post if I could have gotten that post in by the end of this month.

Catch-up time once again

It seems like this year I manage to get in a real post every other month, thanks to some big news items that came out, but it still takes me a long time to work on them and I ended up getting one of them in under the wire at the end of the month anyway. I’ve been doing a lot of work on a project that should produce a number of posts next year (and you might be able to find a hint of it if you look closely), but I wouldn’t be optimistic about next month even continuing that every-other-month trend, given what I tend to do when the Olympics start coming up, and then as we hit August my attention turns more towards the upcoming NFL season. (When’s the last time I had more than one post in a month outside football season?) As always I tend to be more active on Twitter, but I really need to find a way to get my writing juices really going soon.