FORT WORTH, Texas ― I've often shied away from being labeled a journalist and, no, it's not because of the stigma of being the enemy.
It's that I consider myself a storyteller more so than anything.
Luckily I'm afforded an inside (and often personal) look at the inner workings of professional bull riding. With that comes a first-hand experience involving riders, stock contractors and others and then, as a result, I share that insight through feature stories, news items, and in more recent years, podcasts and social media.
A lot of what I do is introducing readers to who these athletes really are in and out of the arena. It's about discovering what drives and motivates them - where they grew up, major influences, and so on and so forth.
But as with any sport it's about competition.
It's about winners and losers.
And, when talking specifically about the PBR, it's about winning world titles.
To do that, you have to analyze numbers and statistics. You have to compare and contrast one rider (or bull) from the others. Ultimately, in the end, those numbers are what determine the better athlete.
Who won the most titles? Who scored the highest points? Who won the most Built Ford Tough Series events? Who won the most money? But it always circles back to gold buckles.
As much as I love storytelling ― feature writing and profiles are what I prefer ― I love looking at the numbers and seeing how they stack up and, truth be known, those numbers oftentime dictate who gets profiled and in some cases it can even impact the tone or angle of a particular storyline.
I wish I could say I'm such a numbers guy that I spend hours and days sifting through stats and spreadsheets, but the truth is in most cases it's provided to me.
Over the years ― a few weeks ago I celebrated my fifth anniversary with the PBR ― we've put together a pretty solid digital media team. No one person is more important than the other and our collective efforts are all that matters.
One of those people I've come to rely on is Slade Long.
Many of you recognize Long from his weekly conversations with PBR livestock director Cody Lambert and their weekly "In the bull pen" feature. Others are aware of his "Morning line" contribution in which he breaks down some of the key matchups of the event. Perhaps, others know him best as the webmaster forwww.probullstats.com.
Long is officially known as the PBR statistician.
He's a former bull rider and truly understands the sport ― the guy knows what he's looking at ― and is enough of a numbers nerd ― I don't think he'll mind me saying that ― to be able to statistically support much of what he's explaining.
In the past few years I've really come to rely on some of the information Long has assembled.
Shane Proctor rides Owen's BootDaddy.com.
For instance, just this week he sent me an e-mail explaining that based on the past 12 World Champions this year's winner will need to cover around 60 percent of his bulls and around 50 percent of the top tier bulls (Top 500 of all-time).
He added, no one has won a world title and ridden less than 50 percent of their bulls that season (that includes all levels ― BFTS, Touring Pro Division and international events). Adriano Moraes has the lowest average at 54.64 percent, in 2004. Last year, Silvano Alves recorded the lowest average against the top-tier bulls at 31.6 percent, but a year earlier he won the title and covered 58.1 percent of the top bulls.
Based on the first five BFTS events, Long provided this random snapshot of some of the top riders going into this weekend's event in Anaheim, Calif.
Silvano Alves: 57.89 percent and 33.3 percent (1 for 3). He's on track, but needs to make the numbers on the top bulls or he leaves the door open.
Shane Proctor: 61.11 percent and 25 percent (1 for 4). Needs to make the numbers against the better bulls. He's never had a season where he rode more than 35 percent of the top tier bulls.
J.B. Mauney: 47.83 percent and 0 percent (0 for 6). Not enough on either number. For the past two seasons, he has been under 50 percent on the season. He typically rides 45 percent of the top bulls, but not so far this year. Right now he is at 52.94 percent overall on the BFTS, though.
Jordan Hupp: 52.63 percent and 50 percent (1 for 2). He's actually at 56.25 at the BFTS level and will be a player if he can maintain this.
Robson Palermo: 60 percent and 0 percent (0 for 0). Almost always makes the numbers, but the injuries take away just enough of his season to keep him from walking off with it. Palermo is out this week after dislocating both shoulders in Sacramento, Calif.
Mike Lee: 54.17 percent and 50 percent (1 for 2). Good numbers, but lots of TPD (stats) in there. He's only at 40 percent overall on the BFTS.
Kody Lostroh: 58.82 percent and 33.3 percent (1 for 3). Was 62.26 percent and 48.6 percent (17 for 35), in 2009, when he won the world title. Looks on track so far, but is only 41.67 percent overall on the BFTS.
For me, I see those stats as the basis for several features and profiles.
One, Hupp is clearly doing his job and you have to ask yourself, will 2013 finally be his breakout season? Two, will the new point system benefit a guy like Lee, who enjoys riding all week, every week and will likely nod his head more times than anyone else? Three, if 2012 was an "off year" for Alves and he still managed to win a second world title, does anyone stand a chance to beat him if he manages to stay healthy?
We'll see how Anaheim plays out, but it's safe to say one of those stories will be written next week.
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC
© 2016 PBR Inc. All rights reserved.