Having spent years diving deeply into sabermetrics and studying baseball analytics, Trading Bases author Joe Peta’s new book, a preview of the 2019 US Masters, seeks to dispel faulty announcer logic and superstition - and provide bettors with data-driven insight on the world’s most famous golf tournament.
With its hushed tones, abundance of anecdotal-infused ex-pros, and emphasis on tradition and superstition, there’s nothing quite like golf commentator fodder.
Devoid of any sort of analytics database for decades, bettors and casual observers have all historically had to rely on very suspect insight from commentators and tipsters when making predictions for major golfing tournaments.
Skills based analytics over result based narratives
In his new book, believing to have developed a pretty good ability to detect “announcer bullshit”, Joe Peta presents a more nuanced preview of the Augusta National than what you’re likely to see on social media or television.
According to Peta, in comparison to baseball’s sabermetric community, who have existed for roughly four decades, golf is still in its infancy when it comes to analytical or novel ways to assess player performance.
Preferring skills-based analysis over results-based narrative, if there’s anything Peta wants readers to take away from the book, it’s to largely ignore any analysis that isn’t based on strokes gained.
Stroke gained (SG) explained
Called an “elegant creation”, strokes gained (SG) is a zero-sum calculation for every professional golfer on Tour that measures each golfer’s performance against his fellow pros.
A golfer’s strokes gained (SG) is calculated by subtracting his score from the average score of all the golfers who played that particular round – meaning that a player that has positive strokes gained (SG) for a round scored better than the average of all players who played that round.
Interestingly, Peta relies solely on strokes gained (SG) history to evaluate the predictive nature of a player’s past results at a tournament.
As the PGA Tour has never been permitted to install Shortlink technology at Augusta National, Peta had to study old scorecards and crunch the Par 3 and Par 5 data for this book – previously one of the only ways to actually analyse golfer performance at the Masters.
With his own PGA Tour data going all the way back to 1996, Peta recorded all 20,420 shots taken at the 2018 Masters in a spreadsheet to form a database which serves as a base for the entire book.
By splitting each golfer’s total strokes gained (SG) into three different skill sets (performance off the tee (SG:OTT), approaching the green (SG:APP), including scrambling around the green, and putting (SG:P) ) Peta gets a true window into how each golfer performed over the course of the tournament.
He took the strokes gained results for every player that played in the Masters in the last 23 years, and, if they played the following year, he calculated the correlation between their strokes gained in year T and year T+1.
Doing the same calculation for every PGA event, on average the calculation yields a year-to-year correlation in strokes gained (SG) of .16 – with anything above .20 considered high. For the Masters that same calculation yields a correlation of .40 – unlike any other golf competition in the world.
Turning his attention solely to last year’s tournament, Peta presents evidence that balance of excellence was the reason Patrick Reed won
However just like in MLB, Peta states, bettors also need to be careful to separate the performance of the golfer (something he can control), from the performance of his competitors, which is something he can’t.
Peta points to the sometimes-criticized Rickie Fowler, who, despite having never won a major, actually outperformed the field of golfers he faced last year at Augusta - and by a greater margin than seven of the last 12 Masters winners prior to 2018.
Indeed, differences in the benchmark of fractions of a stroke per round are probably smaller than most bettors think, Peta asserts.
Course history vs. recent form
When it comes to projecting a golfer’s performance, Peta looks at the two great debates within the fantasy golf and golf betting communities. These are how much weight to put on course history, and how much weight to put on a golfers recent form versus his historical results.
As the greens and their secrets are only revealed with repeated play, it’s suggested that this allows well-past-their prime former champions to make cuts well into their 50s. It’s pointed out that Jack Nicklaus was still a threat long after he stopped winning other PGA events.
Using strokes gained (SG) to look at the puzzle that is course history, and to see how much to rely on the “horses for courses” factor when projecting Masters results, most examinations focus on the golfers. However when examined from the standpoint of the course, and in the case of the Augusta National, Peta provides some striking revelations.
Overall, Peta’s book challenges all serious bettors to forget about narrative and embrace new ways of gathering data and insight
Turning his attention solely to last year’s tournament, Peta presents evidence that balance of excellence was the reason Patrick Reed won.
While he didn’t actually do anything better than the rest of the field, Reed gained exactly as many strokes on the field getting the ball to the green as he did once he took the putter from his bag.
Balance matters, says Peta, as everyone that finished in the top 20 outpaced the field in at least two of the three areas of skill, and no one that had positive strokes gained (SG) in all three areas finished outside the top 20.
While neither best driver of the ball all tournament nor the best iron player won, Tony Finau set the gold standard for putting success during a single round of golf at Augusta National – and is tipped by Peta to take a massive leap and win the 2019 US Masters.
Overall, Peta’s book challenges all serious bettors to forget about narrative and embrace new ways of gathering data and insight – ensuring golf, and specifically the 2019 Masters, remain a credible betting opportunity.
About the author
Joe Peta is the author of Trading Bases, a Top-10 Amazon Bestseller in the disparate categories of baseball, business and sports betting. He was the lead baseball analyst at ESPN Chalk from 2015-2017 and known to readers for his ‘perfect bracket’ during the 2016 MLB playoffs. Follow Joe Peta on Twitter.