Data Deep Dive: Lineup Experience

We often hear commentators and coaches talk about the value of having experienced upperclassmen in lineups. Upperclassmen often bring leadership and stability to the team, but do lineups with more juniors and seniors actually score higher than those with more underclassmen? On a small scale, that case can certainly be made. Last year’s more experienced Minnesota team performed far better than this season’s younger roster based on the current rankings. However, when you look at the big picture, is there actually a correlation? 

Since the standings are still in flux for the 2023 season, the top 36 teams based on the 2022 regular season rankings were used in this analysis. Lineups often change throughout the season, so the MVP feature on Road to Nationals was used to identify which athletes competed the most on each event throughout the 2022 season, and the top six were used on each event to mimic the lineup we likely saw most during the year. An experience rating was then calculated by adding up the years of experience in the lineup with freshmen garnering one experience point, fifth-years getting five points, etc.

Based on this metric, Minnesota and Georgia were the most experienced teams with 85 experience points while Utah State and Western Michigan were the least experienced with only 49 points. The average level of experience was roughly 65.2 points.

When plotted in a scatter plot, it is very clear that there is no significant correlation between level of experience and a team’s performance overall. The same can be said at the individual event level.

As with overall experience, Georgia and Minnesota once again occupy many of the top apparatus spots despite their vastly different results. Minnesota had the most experienced bars and beam lineups while Georgia had the most experienced vault lineup and tied for the top spot on floor with Iowa and California. The teams with the least amount of experience were far more varied, with Utah State taking the crown for the least amount of experience of any lineup with a floor team that only featured one upperclassman and garnered only nine experience points. This wildly inexperienced lineup finished the season ranked 21st in the country on floor, only two spots below Georgia’s all-upperclassman lineup.

If more experience leads to a more successful result, we would’ve expected a more defined negative slope and an R2 value closer to 1 to indicate that the data fit closely with the trendline, but this data shows quite the opposite. Team results seem to be largely random and not correlated to experience at all.

There are so many factors that influence the success of a lineup, and based on this analysis, experience doesn’t seem to be one of them. Oklahoma ranked fourth in the country on vault last season with only one upperclassman as a consistent contributor. Along with Oklahoma, Missouri also ranked quite low on experience overall but far outperformed more experienced teams in the postseason. Meanwhile, Georgia struggled despite its plethora of upperclassmen.

If your favorite team is heading into a rebuilding year, things may not be as grim as you may have originally expected. Conversely, if your favorite team happens to be holding on to a couple scholarship spots in hopes of some athletes returning for fifth years, that may not be quite as advantageous as it sounds.

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Article by Mariah Dawson

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