Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Rookie Class Of ‘06


This essay would have been much more timely about six months ago, but at that time I had not researched enough past seasons to make a reasonable assessment. In my final player rankings of the 2006 season, there were four rookie players ranked in the Top 20 (Seon Hwa Lee, Julieta Granada, Morgan Pressel and Ai Miyazato). Two other rookies finished in the top 25 – Jee Young Lee and Brittany Lang. I hope you realized as you watched the season unfold that you were watching the greatest rookie class in LPGA history.

I’ve spent quite a bit of effort recently researching past seasons, using my stat system to rank the players. To this point I have gotten as far back as 1985. The seasons from ’85 to about ’95 may not be absolutely complete, but I have enough data to make some definitive statements on this subject. To designate a player’s rookie season, I’ve used the information from their bio page at lpga.com.

To compare one class of rookies to another, you first have to set a couple of parameters. The word “class” in this context denotes a group of people, so it would be a mistake to give too much credit to a season that only had one outstanding rookie over a season which had multiple rookies playing well. For example, in 1996 Karrie Webb ranked number three overall and was a legitimate contender for Player Of The Year. Wendy Ward was the second highest rated rookie that year, but she ranked T50. Even given Karrie’s great season, I would still have to subjectively place 2006 over 1996.

Once I get all of the seasons (or as many as I can find adequate data on) ranked, my next step is to combine a player’s seasonal numbers in some way to evaluate their career or at least sections of it. I think we all know who the “Player Of The Decade” is at this point, but if she was unable to come back from injury and another player dominated 2007 through 2009, which player would really deserve that distinction? What is the best way to combine these seasons?

My first attempt at combining a player’s seasons takes their ranking in a season and awards points for it. The player at number one gets 100 points, number two gets 90, number three gets 80…all the way down to number forty, who gets one point. So if I apply this method to all the rookies in each season, here is what I get:

2006 6 159
2005 2 114
2004 2 26
2003 2 57
2002 2 33
2001 1 12
2000 1 14
1999 1 56
1998 2 92
1997 2 35
1996 1 80
1995 0 0
1994 1 8
1993 0 0
1992 1 22
1991 2 33
1990 0 0
1989 0 0
1988 4 81
1987 1 2
1986 2 34
1985 1 8

The second column is the number of rookies in the top 40 and the third column is the point total. The years closest to 1985 have a small chance of getting altered, if I were to find other rookies that crack the top 40 or find other players’ stats that move the rookies already listed down a spot or two. I’ll also concede that this method is in its infancy and has a good chance of getting its point distribution modified, but I don’t think peripheral changes to the method would move 2006 down.

I would say that even though it stands fourth in points on this chart, the 1988 rookie class has a good claim for the best rookie class prior to 2006. Having twice as many members as any other year makes its strongest case. Liselotte Neumann ranked 13th on the strength of her US Open win while Dottie Pepper and Laura Davies ranked 18th and 21st. The fourth member of this class was Danielle Ammaccapane, in 40th. Obviously 2005 has a good case - 90 of those points belong to Paula Creamer, the rest to Meena Lee. 1998 suffers a bit because Se Ri Pak accounts for 90 of the 92 points – Janice Moodie chips in with the other two.

There is one thing that kind of fudges this study – the LPGA’s definition of “rookie”. By rule, the first year a player plays under exempt OR non-exempt status is their rookie season. By that definition, not all rookies are created equal. The exempt ones can play as many tournaments as they wish, which helps pile up Rolex Rookie points and gives them more opportunity to earn money and win tournaments (two important factors in my ratings). The non-exempt players get to pick from the left-over tournament slots and the farther down the non-exempt pecking order you are, the fewer tournaments you get to play. I haven’t gone back to double-check each rookie season referenced above but I don’t remember noticing that any of those rookies were non-exempt.

I can already see several ways this method could be used to compare players or groups of players, so expect to see it pop up every once in a while.

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