SI Vault
 
The Sultan of Stat
Bill Syken
October 23, 2006
One fateful night in October 1996 David Sabino, then an SI reporter, was at his desk fact-checking an NBA scouting report when he was approached by an assistant managing editor. "We want to rank all the players in the NBA," the editor said, "and we need it by tomorrow morning. Can you do it?" Sabino answered yes, and an institution was born. For every season preview since 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.
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October 23, 2006

The Sultan Of Stat

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One fateful night in October 1996 David Sabino, then an SI reporter, was at his desk fact-checking an NBA scouting report when he was approached by an assistant managing editor. "We want to rank all the players in the NBA," the editor said, "and we need it by tomorrow morning. Can you do it?" Sabino answered yes, and an institution was born. For every season preview since 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 by quickly coming up with a simple mathematical formula to rank players based on statistics. Then, factoring in off-season developments that might affect performance, such as getting a new coach (a plus or a minus, depending on the coach) or being removed from the starting lineup, he moved players up or down on the list. Ten years later Sabino, now an associate editor, takes the same basic approach, albeit with more sophistication. He has refined his NBA mathematical formula (below right) and, by following local papers, plying online sources and quizzing SI's basketball writers, broadened his knowledge of the players. "I can pretty much tell you every player's status right now," says Sabino, who also compiles the lineup for each NBA team's scouting report. "Back then, there was some guessing going on."

Sabino, whose book Dominate Your Fantasy Baseball League was published last year, also brings his skills to SI's Fantasy Plus section, which was launched in August. In addition 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 crunches the numbers to determine which pieces of conventional wisdom are fact and which are fiction. For instance, the standard thinking is that NFL kickers perform best in domed stadiums, but Sabino found they have the highest field goal conversion rates in Tampa, Baltimore and Miami. "Temperate outdoor weather mattered," he says.

Sabino came to SI in 1995 after earning an MBA from Miami. The statistics courses he took obviously come in handy, but if he didn't also know how to scout players, he couldn't handle the greatest challenge of the PVR: identifying players who will do more this year than their past numbers might indicate. Thanks to his sharp eye for talent, Sabino was an early booster of both the Suns' Amar´┐Ż 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 a little early. I had Tracy McGrady high his second year, and he didn't break out until his third." He pauses and then adds, "If you're in a keeper league, you love me." A decade later Sabino's PVR has proved to be a keeper.

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