The value of Brad Jacobs


Brad Jacobs never really left curling after announcing his semi-retirement from the sport last spring. He’s been playing mixed doubles with Kerri Einarson, then last month announced he’d be competing in the Northern Ontario provincials, and in the past week has announced he’ll join Team Carruthers to compete in Grand Slam events.

I’m most interested in his attempt to compete in “provincials”, which is in quotes because only in curling is Northern Ontario considered a province. Anyway, Northern Ontario annually provides the unusual combination of having high-end talent but very little depth. Jacobs’ own exit seemingly opened the door for the Horgan brothers to rise to the top of the men’s pecking order for as long as Jacobs stayed away. As it turns out, that was zero years.

Team Horgan (slash Moulding) is currently ranked 25th in the world on this site, having gone 21-19 this season, including 6-13 against the top 25. The next-best Northern Ontario team is skipped by Trevor Bonot, who is ranked 74th. After that it’s 97th-ranked Jordan Chandler. Jacobs is teaming with Chandler at provincials and one naturally wonders if that team could be competitive with Horgan.

We haven’t done ratings for individual curlers around here, but we’re going take a stab here anyway. Something I have done, but still haven’t shared here, is develop a shot-based win probability model. It’s not ready for mass-viewing for individual games but it’s pretty useful for large-scale insights.

One thing that it can tell us is the difference in win probability each position is responsible for, on average. It works out to about 10%/10%/30%/50% for each player. (It’s actually slightly less for the front end and slightly more for the third, but let’s stick to round numbers.)

So if old Team Jacobs’ rating was the sum of its players, and assuming Team Jacobs’ rating was roughly 11.5 in its heyday, and Jacobs was personally responsible for 50% of that, then his own rating is something like 5.75.

Team Chandler’s rating is currently 8.95. We’ll round up to 9 to make the math easier. The skip for Team Chandler is worth about 4.5. If we simply swap Jacobs for Chandler at the fourth spot, Team Chandler should gain about 1.25 points, for a rating around 10.25. This would suddenly make Team Jacobs/Chandler a slight favorite to win Northern Ontario.

The only person I’ve seen weigh in on this is John Cullen, whose Substack you should totally subscribe to. He gives roughly a 65/35 advantage to Horgan. That would imply that Jacobs/Chandler is about the 55th-best team in the world. And while I’m sure we could find three curlers bad enough to drag Brad Jacobs down that far, I don’t think this group is it.

I’m sure Cullen is tapped into curling conventional wisdom and I admit it would be a hot take to declare Jacobs the favorite to qualify for the Brier. My top two arguments against my own analysis are:

1. Jacobs probably isn’t training for this in the same way he was training while on tour with one of the best teams in the world

2. This is a new team and there could be chemistry/communication issues

But I would argue back that I’m underrating the Jacobs addition in some ways. After all, Jordan Chandler is moving from fourth to third on this team, which we can assume is an improvement as well. And as far as chemistry issues, Chandler played for Team Jacobs in provincials last year while Marc Kennedy was busy being an alternate at the Olympics. And it’s not like Team Horgan and Darren Moulding get in much practice together given the geography issues.

The methodology here is crude but useful, and my safe take is that Northern Ontario is closer to a toss-up than having Horgan be the obvious favorite.