Friday, April 6, 2012

Bringing Moneyball to boxing

"Hit and don't get hit," goes the old adage in boxing. And from a statistical perspective, at least, it seems no one is better at living up to that credo than Floyd Mayweather Jr.

According to Bob Canobbio, owner and founder of CompuBox -- a computerized scoring system that counts every punch a boxer throws and lands -- Mayweather's average connect rate of 46 percent, compiled during his past nine fights (a "prime" designated by CompuBox), ranks as the best among current active fighters. ...

More impressive than Mayweather's own connect percentage is that of Floyd's opponents against him. They land a mere 16 percent of punches thrown, the lowest collective figure recorded in CompuBox's 4,000-fight database. ...

Subtract the average connect percentage of Mayweather's opponents from Mayweather's own hit rate during that designated prime, and the numbers reveal an enormous chasm between Floyd and today's other top fighters.

With a plus/minus connect percentage rating of plus-30 percent, Mayweather is at least twice as effective in the hit-and-don't-get-hit game as any of his contemporaries.

So how does Pacquiao compare? The numbers are undeniably impressive. His 21.8 punches connected per round is greater than Mayweather's. But with Pacquiao, the numbers also illuminate his most glaring weakness, one he shares with countless other warriors of the ring: He gets hit a lot.

Measured against Mayweather's plus-30 rating at 147 pounds, Pacquiao's plus/minus is puny (plus-4.7). Manny throws his jab twice as often as Mayweather, but he connects with that punch only 12.3 percent of the time, compared with Mayweather's 41.6 percent jab connect rate.

More telling is the comparison of power punching. Pacquiao's connect rate on power punches is an astronomical 45.3 percent, only slightly below that of Mayweather, who lands at 47.8 percent. But opponents land 33.6 percent of their punches on PacMan. Pretty Boy's foes? They touch him up at roughly half that rate (18.6 percent). ...

Statistically speaking, Mayweather clearly reigns supreme over his contemporaries. But he also stacks up very well against history's pugilistic pantheon. ...

In a plus/minus comparison, greats such as Marvin Hagler (plus-17 percent) and Sugar Ray Leonard (plus-13 percent) don't come close. Roberto Duran (plus-8 percent), Thomas Hearns (plus-6 percent) and Muhammad Ali (plus-4 percent) fall short, too. ...

Only heavyweight great Joe Louis, at plus-26 percent, approached Mayweather's peak.
--Igor Guryashkin, ESPN.com, on the greatest plus-minus of all time