PDC Eras and Title Winners

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February 24, 2016 by bsd987

Recently, I had a series of tweets covering the all-time PDC title winners. Some were interesting, some probably led to people muting me. But it simultaneously brought back some discussions I’ve had over the past year about Michael van Gerwen’s dominance vis-à-vis Phil Taylor’s.

Now, I’m not going to make a new case for how van Gerwen can match Taylor’s dominance: You either agree or you never will at this point. But I am going to compare his dominance during the van Gerwen era to that of Taylor during various other eras.

I have defined eras as generally two-year periods of time based on who won titles during those years. I have focused solely on titles—as opposed to a more robust ranking system involving finals and other finishes—because that is really all that matters: Kevin Painter didn’t step to the oche in 2003 in order to be world runner-up. Titles define eras and define players; anything shy of a title is ignored for purposes of the eras.[1] Later in this article, I will go through each era, but for now, here are the eras:

1992-1995: Early Days
1996-1997: Taylor’s Ascendancy (aka Taylor I)
1998-1999: Taylor v Harrington
2000-2001: Taylor II
2002-2003: Taylor v Part
2004-2005: Taylor v Lloyd
2006-2007: Taylor v van Barneveld
2008-2009: Taylor III
2010-2011: Taylor IV
2012-2013: Taylor v van Gerwen
2014-2015: van Gerwen’s Ascendancy (aka van Gerwen I, or van Gerwen v Anderson)

Most of the eras are self-explanatory. I’ve split Taylor III and Taylor IV into two separate eras because something noticeable happened from 2009 to 2010. Taylor won 24 and 23 titles in 2008 and 2009 respectively, but cut back to only playing 25 events each in 2010 and 2011. He was still the form player, but he was skipping enough events that other players collected titles in numbers that made them appear to be seriously challenging Phil’s spot atop the mantle. They weren’t.

Let’s go through each of those eras in some detail.

1992-1995: Early Days

I’ve lumped these years together because the PDC/WDC didn’t really stage many events during this time, and there was no clear-cut dominant force. Nine players combined to win 19 events, with Dennis Priestley’s five titles the most of anyone. Taylor won four more of his own, and Alan Warriner-Little added three. But there just isn’t enough information to really make any conclusions.

PDC Events: 19
Most Titles: Dennis Priestley 5 (26.31% of events staged)
Second-Most Titles: Phil Taylor 4 (Priestley + Taylor = 47.37%)
Third-Most Titles: Alan-Warriner Little 3 (Top 3 = 63.16%)
Title Winners: 8 (2.38 titles per winner [tpw])

1996-1997: Taylor’s Ascendancy (aka Taylor I)

Over these two years, the PDC still only staged a few events, but Taylor’s supremacy is for the first time realized. Taylor won more than half the events staged during this time, and no one else won more than two titles. Taylor also won both World Championships and split the Matchplays, falling only to eventual champion Peter Evison in a shock 8-1 defeat in the Last 16 in 1996.

PDC Events: 14
Most Titles: Phil Taylor 8 (57.14%)
Second-Most Titles: Dennis Priestley & Alan Warriner-Little 2 (Top 2 = 71.43%)
Third-Most Titles: N/A/ (Top 3 = 85.71%)
Title Winners: 5 (2.80 tpw)

1998-1999: Taylor v Harrington

During the next two years, Rod Harrington gave the first real challenge to Taylor’s dominance. In addition to winning both Matchplays, Harrington took five other PDC titles, matching Taylor’s seven total. Everyone else combined for nine titles. However, there were some signs that Harrington wasn’t fully a challenger: Taylor won four of their five meetings during this time.

PDC Events: 23
Most Titles: Phil Taylor & Rod Harrington 7 (30.43%)
Second-Most Titles: N/A (Top 2 = 60.87%)
Third-Most Titles: Alan Warriner-Little 4 (Top 3 = 78.26%)
Title Winners: 8 (2.88 tpw)

2000-2001: Taylor II

This is where Darts Database’s data gets a little hazy. During this time period, there was a détente of sorts between the BDO and PDC, and events were frequently filled with players on both sides of the divide. I have gone by how Darts Database has characterized the event, some of which I’m not sure are accurate. This muddles the data, as numerous long-time BDO players won what I have characterized as PDC titles, many beating solely BDO players along the way to the title. Nonetheless, no one was in the same plane as Taylor during this time, even as he only took home eight titles total.

PDC Events: 57
Most Titles: Phil Taylor 8 (14.04%)
Second-Most Titles: Alan Warriner-Little 4 (Top 2 = 21.05%)
Third-Most Titles: Peter Manley, Martin Adams, & Denis Ovens 3 (Top 3 = 26.32%)
Title Winners: 34 (1.68 tpw)

2002-2003: Taylor v Part

This was the first real challenge to Taylor’s crown. John Part not only won a then-record ten PDC titles in the 2002 season (which includes the 2003 World Championship), but he also defeated Taylor at the Circus Tavern to end his run of eight consecutive World Championships. Overall, Taylor and Part won 15 titles each during these two seasons, and Taylor won only four of seven matches against his Canadian rival. Their 30 titles combined was nearly half of the 63 titles the PDC awarded over these two years. The era also saw Peter Manley emerge as the clear #3.

PDC Events: 63
Most Titles: Phil Taylor & John Part 15 (23.81%)
Second-Most Tiles; N/A (Top 2 = 47.62%)
Third-Most Titles Peter Manley 7 (Top 3 = 58.73%)
Title Winners: 18 (3.50 tpw)

2004-2005: Taylor v Lloyd

Although Colin Lloyd never made a World Championship final, he did knock
Taylor off the top spot in the PDC rankings and won a pair of major titles. He won a Matchplay and Grand Prix each during this time frame, as well as losing a Premier League and Grand Prix final to Taylor. Lloyd won 14 titles to Taylor’s 21, while no one else won more than four. Overall, including Australian events played under the PDC banner—which contributes to the lower percentages seen below—38 different players won titles during these two years. Taylor won 6 of the 8 head-to-head meetings, with a seventh meeting ending in a 6-6 draw.

PDC Events: 94
Most Titles: Phil Taylor 21 (22.34%)
Second-Most Titles: Colin Lloyd 14 (Top 2 = 37.23%)
Third-Most Titles: Terry Jenkins & Brian Roach 4 (Top 3 = 41.49%)
Title Winners: 25 (3.76 tpw)

2006-2007: Taylor v van Barneveld

Many have labeled Raymond van Barneveld as Taylor’s greatest rival. During these two years, they met 15 times, with Taylor winning 8, van Barneveld winning 6, and one draw. They split the two World Championships, and in total won 34 PDC titles from the 89 events put on by the PDC. The era also saw the emergence of James Wade, whose five titles in 2007 coincided with the beginning of a long decline in van Barneveld’s performance. But for these two years at least, Taylor had a legitimate rival both on stage and on the floor.

PDC Events: 89
Most Titles: Phil Taylor 19 (21.35%)
Second-Most Titles: Raymond van Barneveld 15 (Top 2 = 38.20%)
Third-Most Titles: James Wade 6 (Top 3 = 44.94%)
Title Winners: 32 (2.78 tpw)

2008-2009: Taylor III

After Phil Taylor was left during the 2007 season without any major ranking titles for the first time since 1994, Taylor resurfaced to new heights in 2008 and 2009. He won a record 24 PDC titles in 2008, and then nearly matched that in 2009, winning 23 more. Nobody was even close, with the other 62 titles split amongst 28 other players, including the likes of Wade, Priestley, Lloyd, and Colin Osborne. But this was Taylor’s most glorious era.

PDC Events: 109
Most Titles: Phil Taylor 47 (43.12%)
Second-Most Titles: James Wade 8 (Top 2 = 50.46%)
Third-Most Titles: Dennis Priestley 6 (Top 3 = 55.96%)
Title Winners: 29 (3.76 tpw)

2010-2011: Taylor IV

The big difference between Taylors III and IV was that Taylor cut bank substantially in the number of events he played between 2009 and 2010. That, and Adrian Lewis won both World Championships played during this era. But Lewis won only three other titles, whilst Taylor took 24, double second-placed Gary Anderson. So when it came to winning titles, it was still the land of Taylor. Still, like Rocky IV, Taylor IV showed signs that maybe the franchise wasn’t as dominant as it used to be.

PDC Events: 114
Most Titles: Phil Taylor 24 (21.05%)
Second-Most Titles: Gary Anderson 12 (Top 2 = 31.58%)
Third-Most Titles: Simon Whitlock 8 (Top 3 = 38.60%)
Title Winners: 35 (3.26 tpw)

2012-2013: Taylor v van Gerwen

The emergence of van Gerwen at the World Grand Prix in 2012 previewed his rise to World #1. Although he fell in a classic final to Taylor at the Alexandra Palace three months later, he would take control in 2013, eventually winning his first World Championship. He won half of his 14 meetings with Taylor, while Taylor only won 6 (one draw). More importantly, he won 21 titles to Taylor’s 17. No one else won more than eight.

PDC Events: 90
Most Titles: Michael van Gerwen 21 (23.33%)
Second-Most Titles: Phil Taylor 17 (Top 2 = 42.22%)
Third-Most Titles: Dave Chisnall 8 (Top 3 = 51.11%)
Titles Winners: 24 (3.75 tpw)

2014-2015: van Gerwen’s Ascendency (aka van Gerwen I, or van Gerwen v Anderson)

Because it’s so recent, this era is tough to name or even define. Quite possibly, 2014 should be grouped in with 2012-2013, and 2015 could be the first year of a new era. Or this era could be a three-way struggle amongst Taylor, van Gerwen, and Anderson. But regardless, this era has been marked by van Gerwen’s ascendancy to the top. Whilst Anderson took both World titles—not too dissimilar to Lewis doing the same during Taylor IV—van Gerwen has won nearly everything else. His 18 titles last year are the most by any player outside of the Taylor III era, and his 27 titles in total is more than double Anderson’s second-place 13. While there has been a lot of talk about the depth of the game during this time, only 26 players won the 99 available titles, compared to 29 from 109 in Taylor III. The added depth hasn’t translated to more unique title winners.

PDC Events: 99
Most Titles: Michael van Gerwen 27 (27.27%)
Second-Most Titles: Gary Anderson 13 (Top 2 = 40.40%)
Third-Most Titles: Phil Taylor 12 (Top 3 = 52.53%)
Title Winners: 26 (3.81 tpw)

Discussion

It’s hard to compare different eras for a variety of reasons. First, the number of events and the locations of the events have altered significantly over time. The PDC used to stage full-field events in North America and Australia. Now, the only events outside of Europe are invitational events featuring the top 8 players in the world. Additionally, there have been a proliferation of invitational events, which skew the numbers in favour of the top eight or sixteen players in the world: If you’re not invited to an event, you obviously cannot win it.

But we can begin to debunk some myths as to the depth of the game.

When you compare the total number of unique title winners to the total number of events staged, you get strikingly similar data. The 26 title winners during the van Gerwen Ascendancy era (2014-2015) came out to an average of 3.81 titles per winner, which is strikingly similar to the Taylor III era. The more events that are staged, the more chances for someone out of the spotlight to pick up a shock victory. For every Joe Murnan last year, there was an Alex Roy in 2008. The simple fact is you have to be good enough in order to win, and there were just as many people good enough to win titles in 2008 at the quality of 2008 as there were in 2015 at the quality of 2015.

Next, if we look at the seven eras starting in 2002, four of them had the top 3 players combine to win 50 to 60 percent of the titles. And other than Taylor IV, where the form player skipped a significant number of events, there hasn’t been great variety in what the top three players do combined.

Taylor IV also had remarkable diversity when it came to multiple title wins, no doubt due to the absence of the form player. In addition to the top three players (Taylor, Anderson, Whitlock), Mervyn King, Part, Lloyd, Lewis, Wade, Mark Walsh, Wes Newton, Paul Nicholson, and Vincent van der Voort each won at least four titles. That’s 12 players who won at least four of the 109 events staged. A further three—Ronnie Baxter, Jamie Caven, and Justin Pipe—won three events. By comparison, during the van Gerwen Ascendancy era, only eight players won at least four events from 99 possible victories, and only nine won at least 3. And Taylor III, where Taylor won 47 of the 109 events, only saw six players win at least four titles and eight that won at least three.

Whatever the added quality of depth there is in the game now, it doesn’t translate to sustained title-winning success when there’s a form player who plays nearly every event. Whilst Taylor’s dominance during Taylor III did breed a better strike rate than van Gerwen’s during the van Gerwen Ascendancy, it very possibly is only because of a mistake in how the eras are defined: If we move 2014 to the 2012-2013 era and add in 2016, van Gerwen has won 23 of 59 events, or only slightly worse than the 23 Taylor won from 56 events in 2009.

And if we look at multiple titles, nine players (including Taylor) won two or more titles in 2009, five of whom won three or more. In the past 13 months, nine players have won multiple titles (including van Gerwen), six of whom have won at least three.

Conclusion

It’s still too early to tell what 2016 will be. It very well could be a third year onto the previous era. Or it could be an era of itself. Or, even possibly, the eras need to be slightly rewritten. 2012 to 2014 could be renamed ‘Transition’, and 2015-2016 could be van Gerwen I. Time will tell. Or maybe someone else will step up and challenge van Gerwen for the next two years.

But whatever happens, there’s legitimate evidence that what van Gerwen has accomplished these last few years is nearly unmatched. Even if his era is short because of the depth of the game—an argument I do not buy—he has matched Taylor’s achievements from when the talent supposedly wasn’t as deep.

Consider this as food for thought until we see what happens over the next few years.

[1] I am solely dependent on Darts Database for this. Darts Database may be missing some events, and some events may be improperly labeled as PDC or BDO.

 

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