Point Differentials, Pro Leagues, And The Playoff Picture

It’s not just the win-loss column that shows the dominance of certain East Coast professional teams. The point differential story is arguably even more one-sided, with the MLU’s Boston Whitecaps sporting a +41 spread in their seven games while the AUDL’s Toronto Rush is +63 over the same number of games.

Of course, scoring spreads will always highly correlate with wins and losses. But one of the analytical findings from other sports is that a team’s point differential (especially when adjusted for strength of schedule) is more predictive of its future wins and losses than its winning percentage alone. The theory is that individual wins have a bit more luck and randomness to them, while season-long scoring trends are more suggestive of a team’s true talent level.

So what are the point differential storylines? The first takeaway has to be Toronto’s and Boston’s respective dominance of their divisions. Those teams are piling onto their opponents; even a few lucky breaks in a single game, for either the Philly or NY team in either league, would probably be insufficient to counter the current gap.

Out West in the MLU, things may be tighter than the win-loss record currently suggests. Seattle and San Fran are nearly identical (+19 and +15); Vancouver’s gap at #3 (33 points behind Seattle at -14) is much less than the 1-2 Boston-New York gap in the East (a 54 point gap, with New York Rumble at -13).

There are different and interesting storylines in the AUDL. In the East, the point differentials suggest three tiers of teams more so than the win-loss records: Toronto, in a league of its own; New York and Philadelphia, battling for number two; and three bottom feeders (NJ, Rochester, and DC).

In the Midwest, Minnesota has managed to sport a positive point differential despite a 2-6 record; they are probably a bit better than their record indicates, they could very well overtake Cincinnati and Detroit, and they could be a dark horse to make a run at the last playoff spot. Minnesota still plays Indianapolis and Cincinnati twice, but their point differential suggests they could overtake both. The score gap in the Midwest also makes Madison look like a much safer playoff lock than Indianapolis despite nearly equal win-loss records.

Of course, there are things we’d ideally like to add to any analysis: Strength of schedule, injuries (who was out, who is out, and who is coming back), and – perhaps particular to Ultimate – weather considerations (it may be easier or harder to blow teams out in certain conditions). And at the end of the day, it will be the wins and losses that count. But looking at that last number adds just a bit more – and arguably more important – context to the playoff picture than just wins alone.

The author plays for the AUDL’s New York Empire.

  1. Sean Childers

    Sean Childers is Ultiworld's Editor Emeritus. He started playing ultimate in 2008 for UNC-Chapel Hill Darkside, where he studied Political Science and Computer Science before graduating from NYU School of Law. He has played for LOS, District 5, Empire, PoNY, Truck Stop, Polar Bears, and Mischief (current team). You can email him at [email protected].

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