A lot has been said and written about Aaron Martens' 2015 Elite Series season, and a lot more will be said and written in the coming weeks as the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year (AOY) Championship determines much of the 2016 GEICO Bassmaster Classic field. But even before the AOY Championship, Martens has locked up AOY.
He did it at the conclusion of the regular season, with one event left to go. The accomplishment has pundits and fans asking if it's the best Elite season ever.
Well, is it?
It's easy to say that Martens' year is the best in the 10 year history of the Elite Series, to get caught up in the moment and the excitement of the achievement, but how do you back up that very bold statement?
Other anglers have cinched AOY before the regular season ended, though not during the Elite era. Tim Horton, in 2000, was the most recent. And other anglers have won two tournaments in an Elite season, including Kevin VanDam (2007 and 2008), Skeet Reese (2010) and Edwin Evers (back-to-back in 2015).
It would be convenient to look at AOY points and compare them to get a feel for how dominant Martens was this year, but that doesn't work because points have never been tallied in the same way for even two years in a row during the Elite era.
So how can we best compare one angler's performance against another's across seasons? It presents some challenges, even for the very limited period of Elite competition (2006-2015). For one, there's the ever-evolving points system. For another, there's the varying field size (it's usually around 100, but has been as low as 93 and as high as 140). Finally, there are "cuts" (reducing the field to 50 after the first two rounds and to 12 after the third) which prevent a cleaner calculation based on actual fish caught and weighed in.
The best method left to us is an angler's percentile finish. Remember standardized testing from high school? You got a score that told you how you rated against other students in the same grade or school. If you did really well, you were in the 90th percentile or better (upper 10 percent). If you did poorly, you scored below 50 (in the bottom half).
This system is a little like that, and it actually reveals a lot about what it takes to compete for AOY. A perfect score is 100 — it means you won every tournament. The worst possible score is 0 — it means you finished dead last every time. A score of 50 is average.
We start with Martens' finishes in 2015. He was third at the Sabine River, 66th at Lake Guntersville, second at the Sacramento River, first at Lake Havasu, 15th at Kentucky Lake, 13th at the St. Lawrence River, first at Chesapeake Bay and 6th at Lake St. Clair. The 2015 fields ranged from as few as 107 anglers to as many as 124 and totaled 895 competitors for the year, including Martens himself.
If you calculate Martens' finishes as a percentile of the field, he scores 88.04, which means that his average finish was in the top 12 percent. Of course, it was the best of 2015, but how does it stack up against other anglers in other Elite seasons.
Using the same formula, here are the 10 best Elite seasons ever:
# Angler Year Percentile
1. Aaron Martens 2015 88.04
2. Kevin VanDam 2006 87.39
3. Skeet Reese 2009 86.11
4. Skeet Reese 2007 85.23
5. Kevin VanDam 2011 85.10
6. Edwin Evers 2010 84.27
7. Skeet Reese 2010 83.47
8. Kevin VanDam 2009 83.21
9. Alton Jones 2009 82.70
10. Brent Chapman 2012 82.49
Six other Elite anglers posted season scores of 80 or above. A good way to think of that number (80) is to consider it the threshold to challenge for AOY. If you score 80 or better, you're going to be in the hunt. If you score below 80, you're not. No angler in Elite history has ever won AOY with a score below 80.
Martens' 2015 season was not only the best in Elite history, but his margin of victory was also the biggest ever. He was 11.62 percent better than his closest challenger, Dean Rojas. And this is no slight against Rojas, who had a terrific year (76.42). It simply illustrates how strong Martens was in 2015.
Here are the five biggest margins of victory for AOY in Elite history. Keep in mind that these numbers were calculated at the end of the regular season and before any postseason tournaments (where points systems have been dramatically altered and field size has been reduced).
# Percent Year AOY Leader Closest Challenger
1. 11.62 2015 Aaron Martens Dean Rojas
2. 10.48 2011 Kevin VanDam Edwin Evers
3. 2.90 2009 Skeet Reese Kevin VanDam
4. 2.87 2007 Skeet Reese Kevin VanDam
5. 2.47 2006 Michael Iaconelli Steve Kennedy
The AOY race has produced just two runaways of 10 percent or more. Every other AOY battle has been decided by less than 3 percent. The closest was 2010, when it was less than 1 percent. So to win by more than 10 percent is quite an accomplishment.
And then there's money. With his two wins, five other in-the-money finishes and $100K for the AOY title, Martens will take home about $386,000 in B.A.S.S. prize money, not counting the $12,500 he earned in the 2015 Bassmaster Classic. It will make him the top-earner for the year among all B.A.S.S. pros — higher even than Classic champ Casey Ashley, who picked up $300,000 in that championship alone.
To lead all anglers in money for the year without winning the Classic is extremely unusual. In fact, it hasn't happened since 2001 when Dean Rojas won back-to-back Top 150s and the Classic was worth only $100,000. He edged Kevin VanDam in earnings that year.
So let's go ahead and say it. Aaron Martens had the best year in Elite Series history in 2015. Whether you evaluate his season in terms of wins, money or percentile finish, no Elite angler has ever been better.
The bar has been raised.