You may very well have spent this weekend watching NBC’s broadcast of Worlds, not because you hadn’t seen the competition already but as a kind of anthropological experiment. It’s extraordinarily important for us to see how other cultures like NBC behave in their natural habitats so that we may begin to understand their seemingly bizarre choices and value systems.
The broadcast also helped us add “circumspect” and “contingency” to the list of words to which Tim Daggett does not know the meaning. In addition, please remember the moment Al saw Simone’s tuck turn on beam and said, “Now that’s a connection!” Nope. F-. That is an individual skill. It frustrates some people, but it makes me exceptionally happy every time.
Now that’s a connection!
Of course, this residual Worlds coverage is just a distraction from the real issue at hand, beginning to prepare for the NCAA season, but the NBC broadcasts always do raise the important issue of the power of narrative and truth through repetition. So many times in gymnastics, a statement will be put forth, and then either because it makes for a good story or simply because it is repeated so many times, it becomes “common knowledge” regardless of its basis in truth. We need look no further than “Aliya Mustafina is a diva,” which came up again this year. It’s an easy Russia narrative, repeated until it becomes fact through exposure rather than fact through evidence.
This happens all the time. “The Worlds judges love that international look.” Do they? What is the international look–tall, thin, and Russian or multiracial? And is there any evidence that the Worlds judges love that? I’ve never seen numbers backing that up, and certainly not from any recent competitions. Chellsie Memmel, Vanessa Ferrari, Shawn Johnson, Nastia Liukin, Bridget Sloan, Aliya Mustafina, Jordyn Wieber, Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles. What standard of international look do they all meet, exactly? And yet, “international look” remains a thing solely because people say that the judges love it, even though there is no evidence that they do.
Admittedly, this has nothing to do with the completely inoffensive and value-neutral NCAA statistics I’m about to present, but it’s an issue that has been on my mind lately, and in a broader sense, it’s the reason for my overall emphasis on numerical analysis of gymnastics. A deep look at scores and statistics is so important to gymnastics, especially right now when we have access to more information and more perspectives than ever before, because numerical truth is the antidote to antiquated thinking and inherited nonsense beliefs. The more numbers and evidence we get out there, the less likely the conversation is to be dominated by uninformed claims and irresponsible storytelling. Numbers work to give credit to the ones who deserve it rather than the ones who fit a preconceived story or expectation.
NCAA women’s gymnastics is certainly not immune to the supremacy of narrative, and we often see dominance of stories and impressions over reality. We often hear “she’s improving so much,” or “she’s working so hard,” or “she’s a veteran leader,” rather than “her scoring and hit rate merit inclusion in this lineup.” The truth is in the scores. They help clarify everything and separate out the noise and chatter.
So, without further ado, some numbers that have absolutely nothing to do with anything I just said.
As a way of transitioning between the 2013 NCAA season and the 2014 season, I’m looking at how much scoring value each team is losing from the gymnasts that left after last year. Sure, we can say, “this team is losing 12 routines” or “this team is losing 4 routines,” but that doesn’t adequately reflect the individual importance of each of those lost routines. The better way to assess the overall value of those routines is by comparing those lost scores to what we would expect from an average replacement gymnast.
A 9.800 is the basic, normal score. It’s the unremarkable, fine performance, the baseline score from which contending teams will look to improve throughout the season. A 9.800 is akin to meeting but not exceeding expectations. No top team wants to be counting 9.800s at Championships, but they’re never the end of the world. Once scores go into the 9.7s, they become problems.
If we assume 9.800 as the baseline score, we can gauge how much value each of the teams is losing from gymnasts who graduated or left after 2013 by replacing those graduated scores (as measured by season RQS) with 9.800s and seeing how much the team score differs. The tenths above average score is how much the team score would decrease this year if all lost routines were replaced by 9.800s. For example, the UCLA Bruins would see their team score decrease by 0.868 if the Zamarripa, Wong, Pritchett, Baer, and De La Torre scores from last year all became 9.800s this year, from a 197.200 team RQS to a 196.332. The 0.868 represents how much value over 9.800 the injury returners and newbies for UCLA will have to contribute to maintain the level from last season.
-The rankings include the current top teams in the country, except Utah is not included because no gymnasts left. The Utes’ score is 0 because they have nothing to replace.
-Gymnasts are included if they made the final postseason lineup for the team. The exceptions to that are Randy Stageberg and Marissa Gutierrez, who obviously would have been in the postseason lineups had they been healthy and whose absences will have to be dealt with this season.
-In cases where a gymnast competed an event in the postseason but her RQS was below 9.800, I excluded that routine because the score is not significant enough to be viewed as a routine that needs to be replaced. For the most part, we expect teams of this level to be able to come up with a 9.800 to slot into a lineup.
-If a gymnast competed in the postseason but did not have an RQS, I used the postseason average instead to get the best view of contribution to the team.
Tenths above Average:
1. UCLA – 0.868
Vault – 0.275 (Zamarripa 9.970, Baer 9.890, Wong 9.815)
Bars – 0.253 (Zamarripa 9.843, Wong 9.875, De La Torre 9.843)
Beam – 0.105 (Zamarripa 9.880, Wong 9.825)
Floor – 0.235 (Zamarrpa 9.925, Pritchett 9.910)
Losing Zamarripa was always going to be a massive blow, but the savior for UCLA this year is that Peszek, Lee, and Larson can come back into the lineups. Otherwise, replacing all those scores from last year would be an exceptional challenge for a class of freshmen to do alone. Throw in the potential scores for the three injury returners, and maintaining that quality becomes a realistic expectation. Beam is the area of least loss for UCLA and should be a prime spot for improvement over last year given the quality of the group coming in.
2. Florida – 0.835
Vault – 0.195 (Dickerson 9.920, King 9.875) – Your trauma at the disparity in these scores is warranted.
Bars – 0.085 (King 9.885)
Beam – 0.265 (King 9.925, Dickerson 9.875, Stageberg 9.875)
Floor – 0.290 (King 9.920, Dickerson 9.905, Stageberg 9.865)
I’m still going with Florida this year (at least right now), but this number represents the best argument for anyone wanting to make the claim that Florida is not the title favorite this year. That’s a lot of scoring loss, but like UCLA, Florida will have Alaina Johnson coming back and quite likely Caquatto 2 making a larger contribution, which should mitigate the amount that Boyce and Colussi-Pelaez have to do. It’s a talented freshmen duo, but it’s not as large a group as Alabama, UCLA, and Oklahoma have coming in.
Note that King is included on beam since she competed in the postseason, but Stageberg is also included because she would have competed if healthy. However, it’s unlikely that both would have been in the lineup together (for whatever reason), so the beam number is artificially high.
3. Alabama – 0.678
Vault – 0.212 (Gutierrez 9.905, Sledge 9.865, Priess 9.842)
Bars – 0.210 (Priess 9.890. Sledge 9.875, Alexin 9.845)
Beam – 0.090 (Priess 9.890)
Floor – 0.166 (Gutierrez 9.906, Priess 9.860)
It’s a major loss that Alabama is facing with some exceptionally strong contributors leaving, but Sarah Patterson hopes to make up for it by bringing in a small army of new gymnasts. Even though the vault number is the highest, there are people currently on the team who weren’t making the lineup last year who can easily score over 9.800 and replace some of that right away, so the more significant number to me is on bars. There were not replacement gymnasts on the team last year who could come anywhere close to Sledge’s and Priess’s scoring, so the freshmen will be significantly relied upon on that event to ensure there is no net loss.
4. Oregon State – 0.645
Vault – 0.170 (Stambaugh 9.880, Gaspar 9.865, Jones 9.825)
Bars – 0.180 (Stambaugh 9.930, McGregor 9.850)
Beam – 0.075 (Jones 9.875)
Floor – 0.220 (Stambaugh 9.915, Jones 9.905)
This is a big concern for the Beavs, coming off a disappointing result last year and losing so much talent. The incoming class is a bit more heralded than we’ve seen for the last couple years, including the likes of Maddie Gardiner and Kaytianna McMillan, but they will have to be on point from the beginning.
5. Michigan – 0.470
Vault – 0.110 (Zurales 9.910)
Bars – 0.165 (Zurales 9.885, Martinez 9.880)
Beam – 0.130 (Zurales 9.880, Martinez 9.850)
Floor – 0.065 (Zurales 9.865)
Zurales was a significant contributor, so it will be a bit rough for Michigan to maintain last year’s level, but the X-factor will be Brooke Parker’s transfer. We saw so little of her at Alabama that we really don’t know what she’s capable of, but expect her to help on several events for this team that is still a little slim in the numbers.
6. Georgia – 0.448
Vault – 0
Bars – 0.125 (Worley 9.865, Tanella 9.860)
Beam – 0.145 (Worley 9.920, Couch 9.825)
Floor – 0.178 (Tanella 9.875, Couch 9.863, Worley 9.840)
Did anyone else think Georgia would be higher on this list? Just me? Couch’s injury and lack of relative contribution last year depressed their scoring a little bit. They’ve already gotten by without her, and their scores last year reflect a primarily Couch-less state, so her absence is not costing as much as it might have otherwise. Still, 0.448 is not insignificant, and a few of these routines will be rough blows.
7. Illinois – 0.360
Vault – 0.095 (Weinstein 9.895)
Bars – 0.080 (Weinstein 9.870, Kantecki 9.810)
Beam – 0.045 (Weinstein 9.845)
Floor – 0.140 (Weinstein 9.940)
Speaking of rough blows, Alina Weinstein was the MVP of this whole group, and it’s very hard to imagine a repeat performance in 2014 without her. Plus, for a team like Illinois, the 9.800 is worth a little more than it is for the teams placing higher on this list, and they’re less likely to be able to pull a 9.800 out of the crop and slot it in. Weinstein’s relative contribution with respect to her team is probably the most significant.
8. Stanford – 0.350
Vault – 0.155 (Dayton 9.910, Morgan 9.845)
Bars – 0.070 (Morgan 9.870)
Beam – 0.010 (Morgan 9.810)
Floor – 0.115 (Morgan 9.915)
This is not too bad for Stanford. Morgan’s floor and Dayton’s vault are the big losses, but Stanford’s incoming class is big and full of potential. Of course, we’ve heard that story before.
9. Nebraska – 0.335
Vault – 0.180 (Skinner 9.910, Giblin 9.870)
Bars – 0.140 (Giblin 9.905, Skinner 9.820, Nathe 9.815)
Beam – 0.030 (Giblin 9.830)
Floor – 0
This will be a harder job for Nebraska because, while Giblin is the only beamer to break 9.800 in RQS, they are losing a couple other high 9.7s from Skinner and Nathe that will be a challenge to make up for in 2014. It has been a tiny group for several seasons now at Nebraska, but those freshmen and sophomores must give them more routines to work with next year to be competitive.
10. Oklahoma – 0.325
Vault – 0.090 (Olson 9.890)
Bars – 0.125 (Olson 9.925)
Beam – 0
Floor – 0.110 (Olson 9.910)
Brie Olson is certainly a loss, but for an incoming class this big and talented, making up three tenths in scoring over 9.800 is child’s play. Oklahoma has a crop of freshmen on par with what Alabama and UCLA are bringing in, yet is losing much less from last year. If Florida’s number here is the best argument against a repeat of last year, Oklahoma’s number is the best argument for at least a repeat of last year’s results.
11. Auburn – 0.275
Vault – 0.065 (Garcia 9.855, Yokay 9.810)
Bars – 0.075 (Yokay 9.875)
Beam – 0.050 (Yokay 9.835, Habicht 9.815)
Floor – 0.085 (Garcia 9.865, Yokay 9.820)
12. Arkansas – 0.255
Vault – 0.065 (Lewis 9.850, Borsellino 9.815)
Bars – 0.040 (Borsellino 9.840)
Beam – 0
Floor – 0.150 (Borsellino 9.880, Lewis 9.870)
13. Minnesota – 0.175
Vault – 0
Bars – 0.050 (Campbell 9.850)
Beam – 0.070 (Golich 9.870)
Floor – 0.055 (Campbell 9.855)
14. LSU – 0.080
Vault – 0.066 (Taylor 9.866)
Bars – 0
Beam – 0.014 (Taylor (9.814)
Floor – 0
Also note the significance of this minute number. LSU is losing so little. However, this does include a beam routine from Taylor and another from Garcia that was under 9.800 in RQS. Because beam has been a weakness, those losses may pose a challenge even though the scores were not huge.
Individual rankings – Tenths above Average:
1. Vanessa Zamarripa – 0.510
2. Marissa King – 0.405
3. Alina Weinstein – 0.350
4. Katie Zurales – 0.340
5. Brie Olson – 0.325
5. Makayla Stambaugh – 0.325
7. Ashanee Dickerson – 0.295
8. Ashley Priess – 0.282
9. Ashley Morgan – 0.240
10. Shayla Worley – 0.225
Zamarripa alone would have placed fifth on this list. That’s how much above average she was.