If you're following the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race, you're not alone. Fishing's most prestigious title is a subject of great interest to a lot of us, including a couple dozen Elite Series anglers who still have their eyes on the prize.
Brent Chapman leads the way after five events. He's having a remarkable year. Except for a hiccup at Douglas Lake where he finished 68th, Chapman has been fantastic, finishing no worse than fifth in the other four tournaments. He's averaging a 17th place finish (that one bad tournament really stings) and has a 15-point lead over David Walker, whose worst finish this year is 30th.
Ott DeFoe is third, making good on all the promise he showed as last year's Rookie of the Year. Like Walker, DeFoe has yet to miss a cut this season, and that's the kind of consistency that gets rewarded.
Trailing DeFoe are a bunch of the usual suspects who always seem to hang around the top of the leaderboard and enter the discussion of who's the best stick on the water. Oddly, though, you have to drop all the way down to 12th place to find an angler who already has an AOY title — Kevin VanDam, who has seven. That hasn't happened since the 2008 season opener.
So who's going to win AOY this year? We could speculate about the upcoming events, talk about who's good on rivers or smallmouth waters, and generally muddy the picture with conjecture.
Or we could go to the stats. You probably know my preference.
To handicap the field, let's start by looking at the Elite career of Brent Chapman. He's an extremely talented angler — certainly one of the top 20 over the past seven years. In fact, if you look at his average finish over his Elite tournaments (including this year, when he's been better than ever), he ranks 16th among all anglers who have fished at least two full seasons. That's strong.
And if you plot out his finishes and rank him in a 99-angler field (the number of Elite anglers in 2012), he averages a 38th-place finish. It might not seem that great, but it is. The very best in this category is Kevin VanDam; he scores an average 20th-place finish. Skeet Reese is second at 26th. Todd Faircloth is third at 31st. After that, the numbers start to bunch up.
I'm sharing that number (38th) with you because I think it's significant. I'm a big believer that any athlete or sport's team is what the record says they are. You can call yourself number one, but if the numbers don't back you up, you wind up looking silly.
Chapman's 38th-place average finish is significant because that's who he is, what he does and where he ranks — maybe not this year, but historically and over a pretty long period of time (62 tournaments). In previous seasons, he's been as good as 33rd (2007) and as bad as 47th (2006), but day in and day out he's 38th, and that's impressive.
So what if Chapman reverts to his record? What if he comes back to earth (we all do, eventually) and averages a 38th-place finish in the final three tournaments. Can he be caught by other anglers in the AOY race, and who has the best shot to do it? I think that's a fair way to assess his chances of winning the title.
If Chapman finishes 38th in the final three tournaments, he'll finish with 603 AOY points. To catch him, David Walker would need to average 33rd place; Ott DeFoe would need to average 28th; Matt Herren (currently fourth) would need to average 27th. And, of course, the further down the list you go, the better the angler has to be to run Chapman down.
So who has the best chance of catching Chapman and taking the 2012 AOY title. The answer might surprise you.
Despite the fact that he's currently third, I think Ott DeFoe has the best chance of passing Chapman. Assuming the leader drops back to his historic rate of performance, DeFoe would need an average finish of 28th place in the remaining three tournaments.
Guess what? In his short Elite career, DeFoe averages a 25th-place finish. That's better than what he'd need to catch a falling Chapman. DeFoe would only need to perform at his norm to get the job done, and he's the only angler in the race for whom that would be true.
David Walker would also have a good chance of catching Chapman. He'd need an average finish of 33rd, and his career average is 34th. The rest of the anglers in the field would have to be substantially better than their career average to catch the leader.
And what about four-time defending AOY champ Kevin VanDam? Well, if Chapman slips back to his norm, KVD would need to average a 16th-place finish to catch him. His career average is 20th.
Here's a look at the AOY rankings if all the anglers post average finishes for the rest of the year:
|1. Ott DeFoe||612|
|2. Brent Chapman||603|
|3. David Walker||600|
|4. Brandon Card||599|
|5. Kevin VanDam||589|
|6. Todd Faircloth||585|
|7. Randy Howell||578|
|8. Edwin Evers||574|
|9. Matt Herren||558|
|9. Terry Scroggins||558|
Of course, if Chapman stays hot, no one else has a chance. He's good enough to leave the rest of the field in his wake.
And 612 AOY points won't be enough to take the title. If I had to bet, I'd go with something around 640-650. The race to get there should be interesting.