ESPN the Magazine published their list of the most dominant athletes. It raised some eyelids, eyelashes, and eyebrows.
If you haven’t seen it, the top 20 went thusly:
- Simone Biles, gymnastics
- Eliud Kipchoge, marathoner
- Daniel Cormier, MMA
- Ariya Jutanugarn, women’s golf
- Katie Ledecky, swimming
- Chloe Kim, snowboarding
- Breanna Stewart, WNBA
- Luka Modric, soccer
- Simona Halep, women’s tennis
- Novak Djokovic, men’s tennis
- Yuzuru Hanyu, figure skating
- Lewis Hamilton, Formula One Racing
- LeBron James, NBA
- Mookie Betts, MLB
- Drew Brees, NFL
- Justify, horse
- Alex Ovechkin, NHL
- Patrick Mahomes, NFL
- James Harden, NBA
- Mike Trout, MLB
I know, I know, there is a lot to nitpick about that list. Here’s how they described the method that puked this out:
Who was truly elite in 2018? Our Dominant 20 answers that by pitting the year’s best against their top rivals with cold, hard math.
We started by grading athletes by the strongest performance measures available in their sport over their most recently completed season (except F1 numbers, which are through Nov. 11, and NFL numbers, which are through Nov. 26), including timed scores, earnings and, wherever possible, advanced metrics.
Then, to put those achievements into historical perspective, we compared the top athletes in a sport to the best in their field each year since 1998 and adjusted the results to put those athletes onto one common baseline, yielding our ratings.
So what does Simone Biles’ dominance score of 3.25 mean? In 2018, she was 3.25 standard deviations better than the typical top-four performer in all-around women’s gymnastics since 1998 — rendering her the year’s most dominant pro athlete.
Here’s the thing. If your made-up algorithm spits out a list that seems like it cannot possibly be real, you might want to scrap it. Lists shouldn’t conform to all expectations, and a good ranking or list or method will largely confirm what we believe, while challenging those beliefs in a few spots. There was a nice feature on Simone Biles, but that gets lost when everything about the list seems crazy.
Well, everyone is going to have different opinions, but here are some nominees for snubs.
JAMES BALDWIN, Cornhole Champion
Look, I know there is a debate about how athletic you have to be to do cornhole, but it’s becoming big business. I’m pretty sure the ESPN networks have been airing some of the events on the Ocho.
And this was recently written about James Baldwin.
When I look at James’ win at the 2018 ACL Championships, I am in awe of how well he played. Throwing sticky side down, Baldwin seemed to make every slide, every push, and definitely every airmail. Earlier in the week, Baldwin made quick work of the 2018 ACL Player of the Year Cody Henderson in the WCO World Cup. With his only stumble in the week coming in doubles the day before singles, you just felt like Baldwin was going to come out swinging. His ESPN3 win against the hottest player of the tournament, Daymon Dennis, proved to the world that this wasn’t the same James Baldwin from last year. Between his win against Dennis, and his finals win against Adam Hissner, Baldwin shot better than 80% on his airmails. Absolutely ridiculous.
Absolutely ridiculous indeed that he missed this list. They really missed the board on that one.
SERENA WILLIAMS, Tennis
Look, I’m going to virtue signal here, but I feel like ESPN really missed the boat in keeping Serena out while Simona Halep makes the list by winning A single major event.
What better way to show you support women’s rights and struggle of balancing career and family than to actually include the most dominant female athlete, who, you know, gave birth and came back, rocked the fashion at the French Open, and kicked some more butt in the last year. It’s bad enough that the WTA didn’t know how to handle her return, but this list forgets she exists because of some algorithm.
MOHAMED ELSHORBAGY, Squash
Sure, you might also argue for another Egyptian athlete with the name “Mo” but come on, people, how do you leave ElShorbagy off?
He’s the World Champion, the #1 player in Squash, and continues to rack up victories around the globe.
NINJA, video gamer
You want dominance? How about the fact that this 44-year old had not heard of someone named Ninja a year ago but now it’s all I hear about. Tyler Blevins is the most popular gamer on the planet, and last I checked e-sports had sports in the title. He’s got 3.7 million followers on Twitter, and 17 million YouTube subscribers. He appeared on the cover of an ESPN the Magazine just a few months ago, and now here he is being ignored. He’s like the Jim Brown or Eliud Kipchoge of e-sports.
ALEX MORGAN, USWNT soccer
How about we go with someone that combines on-the-field excellence with popularity/fame/attention? Alex Morgan is the star of the women’s national team, who will be attempting to win the World Cup next year. In 2018, she scored 18 goals in 19 games played for the national team, and the USWNT went undefeated for the year. She was named U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year. She is at her dominant peak right now.