Mayor’s Race Analytics

In recent years, sabermetrics have revolutionized the study of baseball and other sports. Many other fields have also been influenced by statistical analysis, including politics and elections, to name a couple. But somehow, one very important area has been overlooked by the emerging field of analytics: politicians racing at sporting events.

Until today, that is. With most of the 2011 season in the books, we have enough data to properly analyze the Old Brick Furniture Tri-City Mayors Race, which takes place during the sixth inning of every ValleyCats home game. These new analytical methods will provide critical new insights on the three mayors’ strengths and weaknesses and may help us more accurately predict the final few races.

First, let’s review the current standings:

  1. Brian Stratton, Schenectady, 13
  2. Harry Tutunjian, Troy, 10
  3. Jerry Jennings, Albany, 8

Mayors Tutunjian (center) and Stratton (right) fight for the lead while Jennings lags behind, a rather common sight this summer.

Former Schenectady Mayor Brian Stratton has led the standings for most of the season, and with only five races to go, he seems likely to keep it that way – one more win would clinch at least a share of the title at the season’s end.

But wins and losses tell only a fraction of the whole story. So much more happens during each race before the first mayor reaches the finish line, and all of it is valuable information that we can use to further our understanding of each runner. Let’s explore!

Getting started

If you’ve been to “The Joe” a couple times, you’ve likely seen at least one memorable comeback. After all, the 250-foot track can be grueling for these mayors, and anyone who gets off the blocks too quickly may fade down the home stretch. As the contestants jockey for position before the right-field gate opens, you may wonder, does the opening of the race even matter?

Indeed it does. The mayor who leads out of the gate has held on to win the race nine out of 20 times this season.* This certainly is not a prohibitive advantage – so don’t despair if your favorite politician is straggling down the right-field line early on – but it is clearly better than the one-in-three rate we would expect from random chance.

*In the other 11 races, data was not recorded or the leader was too close to call.

Troy Mayor Harry Tutunjian is best at getting out in front – he has taken the early lead in half of these 20 races – but he is also the worst at capitalizing it, winning just 30% of the time that he starts in first. (Tutunjian has actually won a slightly higher percentage of the races that he has not led initially, suggesting that fighting for pole position may not be worthwhile for him.)

Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings has won three of six races with the lead, bringing us to…

Sabermetrics of Stratton

The secret to Stratton’s success is not his performance off the blocks – he has taken the initial lead in only four races, the fewest of any mayor. Instead, like a shorter and slightly slower Usain Bolt, his strength is his ability to pull away from the pack. When Stratton does get an early lead, he is nearly unbeatable – he has lost only once after starting in first place. (Even that race would have been another Stratton victory had he not made the ill-fated decision to turn around and showboat near the end, allowing Tutunjian to pull off a stunning – if karmic – comeback.)

Stratton has the fastest top speed – he ran a blazing 13.92 in mid-July, the best time of any mayor this year by nearly a full second – but a deeper look reveals some very mixed results. He has gone a nearly unthinkable 6-0 in races decided by less than .3 seconds, and while defenders will argue that the pride of Schenectady “just knows how to win,” his performance in close contests is an indicator of good luck. Those wins are in hand – and the biggest reason why he will almost certainly take the end-of-season crown – but he has most likely been racing above his true talent level so far.

Stratton’s average race time this year is 22.05 – nearly a full second slower than Tutunjian’s.

Hard-luck Harry

That will probably come as little solace to the mayor of Troy, who has often played the role of Samuel Tilden to Stratton’s Rutherford Hayes – tantalizingly close but ultimately a loser. Tutunjian has lost four races by less than .1 seconds – and four others within half a second – naturally leading to the most second-place finishes.

And when Tutunjian has won, it has often been by Reagan-like margins. His average margin of victory is 1.1 seconds, nearly twice as high as any other candidate’s. Not even included are five other races in which Tutunjian led by so much that the other two candidates did not even cross the finish line – Jennings and Stratton have only three such victories combined.

With an average race time of 21.10 seconds, easily the fastest of the three contestants, Tutunjian has proven his consistency. Unfortunately, a series of disappointing photo finishes has relegated him to second place – and in the words of the immortal Ricky Bobby, if you ain’t first, you’re last.

Losing focus

Bringing up the rear of the standings is Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings. Unlike Tutunjian, Jennings can’t blame bad luck for his position. Rather, he appears to be suffering a lack of concentration.

It’s natural for runners to break off a race sometimes – if you don’t feel you have a chance of winning, you might as well slow up and save your energy. But Jennings has been too willing to give up on competitions. While Tutunjian and Stratton have failed to finish 13 times between them, Jennings has accumulated 12 DNF’s on his own.

Though this might be excusable if it were part of a well-planned strategy, Jennings instead simply seems prone to all sorts of distractions. He has been sidetracked by a fight, a shoving match and even a lightsaber battle (on Star Wars Night, of course). Though it makes a great spectacle to entertain the fans, these incidents cost Albany’s mayor valuable time and are a big factor in his poor record.

If you’re looking for positive things to say about Jennings as a runner, start here: he’s a ‘mudder.’ Jennings has won three of the four slowest races this year, and will doubtlessly try to slow things down again this week in an effort to catch Tutunjian for second place.

As the mayors showed off for the fans in June, Jennings took the inside track for his first win of the season.

Dog days

After anonymous reports that an unnamed mayor had been taking illegal substances to gain an edge on his competitors late in the inaugural 2010 season, the ValleyCats instituted a tougher testing program to crack down on the mayors’ excessive use of caffeine and other stimulants. If the numbers are any indication, the testing has worked.

Check out this chart of the times throughout the season:

As you can see, the contestants are slowing down significantly as the calendar turns. As the best-fit line shows, the average time has increased by .22 seconds with every race, a substantial decrease in speed over the course of a season.

This fatigue manifests itself in other ways as well. In the first four homestands, the mayors were much more likely to finish races than in the last four. This difference is not quite statistically significant (p=.12), but it tells the same story:

These data suggest that players aren’t the only ones who get worn down by a long summer – and, unlike players, the mayors can’t be spelled by a reserve for a day’s rest.

But they’ve been off for eight days now, and the trio should be fresh for the home stretch. Will Tutunjian’s luck change enough for him to overcome Stratton? Will Jennings turn around a rough season? Will Stratton keep winning nailbiters? Watch the final five races at “The Joe,” starting tomorrow, to find out.

Kevin Whitaker

4 Comments

So far the ValleyCats internet broadcasts since the August 20 “re launch” has been quiet..why?

Erik’s plans were interrupted when he received and took a full-time offer at a TV station in Oregon. We’ll be back on the air for our remaining home games, beginning Tuesday, and if we go on the road we’ll let everybody know. In the meantime, you’ll have to listen to the home team’s broadcast.

Mucho Gracia

Pingback: The Beginning is the End is the Beginning « Ben's Biz Blog

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