by Ken Pomeroy on Tuesday, February 12, 2013
I’m a little late to the party on discussing the fouling-up-3 strategy, but for a while I’ve been wanting to interrogate play-by-play data to get a handle on the approach. Not that it matters, but I’ve believed it usually makes sense to foul in these situations and it’s been heartening to see that analysts across the sport have embraced the idea. Contrast that with old-school baseball folks that still struggle accepting that a sacrifice bunt is usually a bad idea despite a large amount of analytical work that supports the idea.
While a consensus has formed that fouling is a good idea, there’s always been this nagging piece by John Ezekowitz that has been ignored in these discussions. I’ll admit I was not comfortable with the findings from that piece that indicate playing honest defense has been a more successful approach in the past, but John isn’t one to just go contrarian for the sake of it, so I always thought it should be taken seriously. However, given my nature as a control freak, I’ve always wanted to sift through the data myself, and the recent attention given to this issue provided motivation to do that.
I chose to use slightly different assumptions than John. I flagged all possessions at the end of the second half or overtime period where a team trailing by 3 took possession of the ball with between five and 12 seconds left. Then I recorded what happened in that possession (foul/no foul) and whether the game was won or lost by the leading team in regulation, or if the game went to an extra period. The period of record here is every game since the 2009-10 season. First, the results...