The Sultan of Stat

October 22, 2006

One fateful nightin October 1996 David Sabino, then an SI reporter, was at his deskfact-checking an NBA scouting report when he was approached by an assistantmanaging editor. "We want to rank all the players in the NBA," theeditor said, "and we need it by tomorrow morning. Can you do it?"Sabino answered yes, and an institution was born. For every season previewsince then he has tackled the daunting task of assigning a player value ranking(PVR) to every player in the NBA, the NFL and Major League Baseball.

Sabino began byquickly coming up with a simple mathematical formula to rank players based onstatistics. Then, factoring in off-season developments that might affectperformance, such as getting a new coach (a plus or a minus, depending on thecoach) or being removed from the starting lineup, he moved players up or downon the list. Ten years later Sabino, now an associate editor, takes the samebasic approach, albeit with more sophistication. He has refined his NBAmathematical formula (below right) and, by following local papers, plyingonline sources and quizzing SI's basketball writers, broadened his knowledge ofthe players. "I can pretty much tell you every player's status rightnow," says Sabino, who also compiles the lineup for each NBA team'sscouting report. "Back then, there was some guessing going on."

Sabino, whosebook Dominate Your Fantasy Baseball League was published last year, also bringshis skills to SI's Fantasy Plus section, which was launched in August. Inaddition to providing PVRs for the section (page F12) and for SI.com/fantasy,he makes weekly recommendations of players to start and sit, and he crunchesthe numbers to determine which pieces of conventional wisdom are fact and whichare fiction. For instance, the standard thinking is that NFL kickers performbest in domed stadiums, but Sabino found they have the highest field goalconversion rates in Tampa, Baltimore and Miami. "Temperate outdoor weathermattered," he says.

Sabino came to SIin 1995 after earning an MBA from Miami. The statistics courses he tookobviously come in handy, but if he didn't also know how to scout players, hecouldn't handle the greatest challenge of the PVR: identifying players who willdo more this year than their past numbers might indicate. Thanks to his sharpeye for talent, Sabino was an early booster of both the Suns' Amaré Stoudemire,whose PVR improved from 151 in 2002 to 8 in '04, and the Raptors' Chris Bosh,who went from 160 in '03 to 47 in '04. "I've been fooled a few times,"Sabino says. "If I'm guilty of anything, it's predicting a breakout alittle early. I had Tracy McGrady high his second year, and he didn't break outuntil his third." He pauses and then adds, "If you're in a keeperleague, you love me." A decade later Sabino's PVR has proved to be akeeper.

SABINO'S NBA FORMULA

{[2 √ó (field goals made + 3-pointers made + assists +blocks + offensive rebounds)] + [1.5 √ó (defensive rebounds + steals)] + totalpoints + free throws made -- (2 √ó turnovers) -- (missed free throws + missedfield goals + missed 3-pointers)}/ games team has played

PHOTOERICK W. RASCO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)