This week was a little bit of a schmozzle for our preparation and the weather at the Pacific Northwest Classic this weekend fittingly followed that pattern. It’s pretty cool that they have an indoor facility in Bend, Oregon that is adequate enough to complete a pro tournament when the weather doesn’t cooperate. They have put retractable roofs at the tennis majors and it’s so vital given that you can’t change the weather gods. There can’t be many tournaments out there that have a legitimate indoor option so big ups to the team out in Bend for making that work out. As much as we would love to have 5 takeaways for you, we also aren’t here to force thoughts we don’t really have or care about. Nevertheless, we still have 3 takeaways from what we saw out at the Pacific Northwest Classic.
1. Beware of the Small Sample (Gritty) – If you follow sports like baseball and football, you have probably heard of the phrases “small sample size” and “recency bias”. Small sample size has become pretty mainstream language with the introduction of analytics into professional sports. While pickleball still has a ways to go on the analytics, the fallacy of using a small sample size to make bigger conclusions is something anyone who talks/writes about sports is guilty of. It’s hard for us as humans to avoid doing that even when the prudent thing is to let things play out and we have more evidence to make a conclusion. But where’s the fun in that?
This weekend was a primary example of the small sample size and recency bias issues. I wrote in our fantasy draft preview that I was selling most of my Wes Gabrielsen stock. Go through his results since he has returned to pro tournaments this year and they are not great. Watch him play and his game doesn’t look much different than a few years ago other than he seems to use a two handed backhand dink sometimes for reasons we’re still trying to figure out (work in progress?). I’m not backing off my Gabrielsen’s take but to have seeded him and Erik Lange 5th in this men’s field was an obvious mistake. They had come off a really bad weekend in Seattle the week before having lost to Lukas Crippen and Dalton Vavra (who Slim recency bias ranked too high IMO). However, with Lange by his side that’s still a very solid pair in this field. As much as I like Dylan Frazier and the weird combo of Shelton/Austin Gridley who have had some recent success, it was clearly a small sample size that led me to make that mistake.
Gabrielsen/Lange went on to take silver. It’s far too easy to fall into this trap of the small sample size and the weekend is a reminder of how easy that is to do.
2. Small Fields (Gritty and Slim) – Speaking of small, I think a takeaway from this APP tourney is whether small fields like this past weekend’s will become problematic in 2022. There are going to be over 50 pro tourneys in 2022. While it’s undoubtedly good that these APP tourneys give the opportunity for some of the second and third tier guys to make some real prize money, I don’t think it’s a great look for the sport when the fields are too small. It is very possible this becomes more the norm for pro tourneys as pros will inevitably have to be more strategic in picking their tournaments. This could not only water down APP fields but also the PPA fields as it may be the case that second/third tier players begin foregoing the bigger tournaments to try to take down podiums in these softer APP brackets.
Overall, the amount of pickleball that is happening is a good thing. I don’t think there’s much doubt about that. However, the race to grow the sport is going to have some negatives as well. A plethora of tournaments with some having these weaker fields can only garner so much casual fan interest. I’m not sure what all of this means but the reality is that we might be seeing watered down “pro” brackets become more common place going forward.
3. Young Gun Supremacy (Gritty and Slim) – If you would have asked us a month ago who the top “young gun” on the men’s side of the pro tour is, we would have both answered JW Johnson definitively. His game is so solid. The hands are strong as an ox and his robot-like demeanor serves him very well on the court. However, Frazier is making us have a second thought about JW being the clear cut young gun #1 every time he steps on the court. Frazier took down JW Johnson in singles 11-1, 11-7 in the bronze match yesterday after losing in 3 games on the winners side of the bracket despite JW being the more seasoned singles player
Of course, JW did have the gold in men’s with Jay Devilliers and silver with Lea Jansen in mixed, but Frazier’s ability to carry a partner like Matt Chou to a bronze is possibly more impressive (Matt Chou is quite solid in his own right). I’m very curious why it took so long for Frazier to start playing singles but his results in only two APP singles events are scary good. He has a super strong cat and mouse game that plays very well against basically anyone who is not in top couple tiers of singles players. When you talk about a guy with strong hands, Frazier’s are definitely that. He has what the kids like to call “sneaky athleticism” out there on the court as he sort of just shuffles his way around covering as much court as anyone in men’s and mixed.
It’s about as close as it can get for both these two guys in their all around games – singles, mixed and doubles – and it’ll be very interesting to see as both players, especially Frazier’s, level of partners start to sky rocket very soon. I have to imagine there are pros looking to lock these guys up for 2022 and beyond right now.
Fantasy Update: Some might call it an asterisk of a win but Gritty does get the win 11-7 in this abbreviated fantasy week buoyed by the error of both of us in missing the Jansen/Johnson combination. Although Gritty had Lange/Gabrielsen on his team, he had them 5th on the board and those 2 points were huge overall in this week.
We’re all tied up again for the year and we know all of you are on the edge of your seat for how the 2nd half of 2021 is going to turn out fantasy wise. Stay tuned.
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