Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Free Money

If you have money on Sportsbook.com or one of its sister sites, it's time to get in on the giveaway. For their "Make the Playoffs" props, take:

Patriots: Yes -1200 (98%)
Bengals: Yes -1500 (98%)
Steelers: No -330 (87%)
Titans: No -400 (97%)
Texans: No -1800 (98%)
Jaguars: No -400 (85%)

Unfortunately the maximum bet is a risk of $500 on each, but a couple hundred bucks of EV is nothing to sneeze at, plus you can clear $150 of bonus. Happy hunting.

Edit: Throw in Dallas +180 to win their division (43%)

Sunday, December 06, 2009

You can't predict something that is so predictable

Take it away, Sportscenter:

"History says that Brett Favre throws a lot of interceptions and that Adrian Peterson fumbles the ball. The only stat you can't predict in a football game is the turnover stat, and if there's gonna be an issue with the Minnesota Vikings--we saw glimpses of it tonight--it's gonna be they're going to turn the ball over down the stretch--maybe in the playoffs--and they may be the better team on paper, but I...'cause the turnover history, it may cost them a chance of getting in the Super Bowl."

Wow.

Friday, August 07, 2009

John Smoltz Is Not Finished

Freely available talent has a new face: a future HoF starting pitcher who has averaged nearly a strikeout per inning over the past four years with a K/BB ratio over four and reasonable G/F ratios. (This year, he's struck out 33 and walked nine over 40 IP in the AL East.)

There is nothing in John Smoltz's 2009 peripherals to suggest he can't be a solid mid-rotation starter for a contender. His 8.33 ERA is a mirage of sample size and pitching in terrible luck. Every contending team currently sports a staff with at least one starter--and several relievers--worse than Smoltz.

Will the GMs of those teams start a bidding war for Smoltz's services? Nope, they're still using ERA to evaluate pitchers. In their defense, it looks like BBTF was fooled as well.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Defining Declining Analysis

It's been a long time since I've done a full-fledged post on here, because I've been avoiding baseball-related idiocy in an attempt to reduce stress. However, sometimes I read an article that is so bad that it demands a thorough rebuttal.

That day has come, courtesy of Baseball Prospectus. Once the home of cutting-edge statistical analysis, they now misinterpret basic statistics to draw inaccurate conclusions.

Here are the article's major points:

- For pitchers with a large discrepancy between FIP and ERA in the first half of the season, the correlation coefficient (r-value) between first-half ERA and second-half ERA is .33, whereas the r-value between first-half FIP and second-half ERA is .35. Thus, ERA is "equally as likely" to indicate performance going forward.

It's true that there is little difference between .33 and .35. However, this statement alone means nothing. Let's look at a hypothetical group of pitchers:


1H ERA 1H FIP 2H ERA
SP A 1.00 4.01 3.99
SP B 1.50 4.00 4.00
SP C 2.00 3.99 4.01

The correlation between first-half ERA and second-half ERA is a perfect 1, whereas the correlation between first-half FIP and second-half ERA is a completely imperfect -1: a lower FIP actually indicates a higher ERA going forward!

Does this mean ERA is a better predictor than FIP? Of course not. Anyone can look at the above numbers and see that 2H ERA matches up very well with 1H FIP and not at all with 1H ERA. Yes, this example was contrived, but the same effect is at work with the real numbers. The lesson: Don't believe everything an r-value tells you.

- Pitchers with a discrepancy between their 1H FIP and ERA, as a group, had a 3.34 1H ERA, a 4.64 1H FIP, and a 4.60 2H ERA. This compares to a control group with a 4.40 1H ERA, 4.34 1H FIP, and 4.35 2H ERA.

Now, you might think that this means FIP is way, way better than ERA at predicting future performance. But wait...

- The 2H ERA sample has a higher standard deviation (1.42) than the 1H ERA (0.83) and the 1H/2H FIPs. This explains everything!

It explains nothing. I can't believe I have to point this out, but as the average ERA of a group increases, the standard deviation of ERAs within the group tends to increase with it.

Seidman reminds us that this is the "SAME group" of pitchers. So let's do it his way and make two groups of the SAME pitchers: Group A is every starter's ten best starts from 2008, and Group B is every starter's ten worst starts. Naturally there is going to be a huge discrepancy in group ERA--it might be something like 1.50 for Group A and 8.00 for Group B.

What about the standard deviations for the groups? Should we expect them to be equal, since these are the SAME pitchers? Of course not. Group A is going to contain a lot of ERAs between 1.00 and 2.00, while Group B will be spread more thinly between 6.00 and 11.00.

Similarly, we simply cannot expect a group with a 4.60 ERA to have the same standard deviation as a group with a 3.34 ERA, even if it is the SAME guys. (Okay, I'll stop with the caps now.)

What about the 2H ERA having a higher standard deviation than either FIP sample? ERA naturally has a higher standard deviation than FIP, because FIP has much of ERA's variance stripped from it. The reason 1H ERA has a similar standard deviation to the FIP samples is that the average 1H ERA is much lower than either group's FIP, reducing the standard deviation as we saw above.

Mason Malmuth once wrote that the real handicap of a bad poker book is that the reader cannot distinguish between good advice and bad, and as a result will develop bad habits without knowing it. If BP doesn't screen its content better than this, it's going to suffer from the same problem.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Best Chat Answer Ever

Dave (PA)

Keith, You seem pretty jaded about the whole steroid issue, do you have any comments about the example it sets for young people who are heavily involved in athletics?

Keith Law

Well, maybe if the media would stop harping on the subject and implying that steroids make you a superstar, kids wouldn't get the idea that they're worth using.

Amen.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Yankees Have Lost All Right To Ever Complain

Remember all the bitching we heard from the Bronx when Wang Chien-Ming injured himself running the bases last year? "Interleague play is killing our pitchers blah blah blah."

Fast-forward to June 2009. The Yankees are batting in the top of the ninth inning with a four-run lead and the bases loaded. Mariano Rivera, 39 years old and with one career at-bat under his belt, is sent up to hit. Why? Because he entered the game in a save situationTM and removing him now would deny him the save.

So...the Yankees want Major League Baseball to change its entire system of play to better suit their pitchers' health, but they're too engrossed by a meaningless stat to protect a guy who clearly should not be batting under any circumstance? Smooth.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Today's Pet Peeve

Yesterday, Alfonso Soriano was hit in the helmet by a pitch. Clearly, this didn't happen on purpose. Later in the game, Albert Pujols was hit in retaliation.

In retaliation for what? An accident that Pujols had nothing to do with?

If you see Lou Piniella in a bar, make sure you don't spill your drink on him; if you do, he might punch your friend in the face. That'll teach you!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Today's Worst Headline

This one has to be seen to be believed.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Today's Lowlights

Three-way tie for today's worst RSS tidbit. I already went over the first contender. The other two:

In this corner, from MLB.com:

"If a Ph.D. was given in the art of hitting, then let's just say Carlos Quentin already has put in enough hours within the subject to earn that advanced degree."

If a Ph.D. was given in the art of tortured metaphors, then let's just call him Dr. Scott Merkin.

And in this corner, from BP:

"Given Cole Hamels' early elbow problems, the Phillies are lucky they have the easiest schedule of any team in April (.471). The defending champions had better get their house in order by June, because they'll face the toughest schedule of any team in any month at .551."

I'm sure Phillies fans are already relishing the extra ~.02 wins this "luck" confers upon them. Hamels should immediately begin writing his "World Scheduling Champions!" speech for this year's parade.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Worst-Ever Justification For A Podcast

"Eric Karabell and Peter Pascarelli discuss on Baseball Today which feat is rarer: the cycle or a no-hitter."

I'm not going to waste my time listening to this, but I imagine it would sound like one of those phone-a-friends from the new edition of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, where you hear a bunch of typing in the background followed by an answer from Google or Wikipedia.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

DUI Follow-Up

The driver responsible for the Nick Adenhart tragedy is being charged with three counts of murder. How can you charge this man with murder? Was the accident mapped out beforehand? I'm not arguing that he should receive a lighter sentence, but if Andrew Gallo is a murderer, all other drunk drivers are attempted murderers.

Responding to CardSharpCook's comment on my previous post: Perhaps the tone of my post suggested that I think there's no difference between Gallo and anyone who downs a few brews at the neighborhood pub and drives home two blocks with a .09 BAC. That's not entirely reasonable; if it were up to me, the punishment for any DUI would be quite severe, but there would still be additional penalties for causing harm to others, plus a sliding scale where blowing a .15 results in a much greater punishment than blowing a .09. (This may be in place already; I'm not terribly familiar with DUI laws.) Though it's logistically impossible, I'd also like to see a harsher penalty for someone who drives drunk for 20 miles rather than two.

However, comparing drunk drivers to sober drivers (as in the comment) is unreasonable. Operating an automobile grants the driver the power to injure or kill others. A drunk driver has demonstrated that he is not willing to wield this power responsibly; this is different from someone who makes his best attempt to drive safely but still suffers an accident. A better analogy to a drunk driver would be a gun owner who fires his weapon randomly into a city park. When assigning punishment to a person who does this, should it matter that much whether he was (un)lucky enough to hit and kill someone?

CardSharpCook does bring up one good point: it's time to improve the drunk driving propaganda we see in schools. If your school was anything like mine, they faked all the statistics for shock value and painted every drunk driving victim as an innocent 18 year old. The truth is harsh enough. Let's leave it at that.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Results-Oriented DUIs

Yesterday, three people died in a tragic drunk-driving accident that has shocked MLB fans everywhere. Many feel (rightfully) that the responsible driver should spend a long time behind bars.

Tomorrow, two pitchers with DUI convictions will take the mound for their respective teams, and another team will be managed by a drunk driver. I hope the fans at those games boo those three men until their throats hurt.

If you don't see the connection between these two paragraphs, you're kidding yourself. Every time a drunk driver gets off with a slap on the wrist, it teaches others that they can drive drunk too, as long as they don't kill anyone. (Or, in the case of Leonard Little, even if they do.)

I don't mean to trivialize Thursday's crash, but until MLB takes a hard stance against drunk driving among their own players, they're just being results-oriented hypocrites to condemn other drunk driving tragedies.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Results-Oriented Officiating

After a somewhat hard foul by Travis Walton in today's MSU-UConn game, Jeff Adrien attempts to either punch Walton or throw him to the ground, but misses. A fracas ensues, and the announcers say that no additional fouls should be called because Adrien "took a swing, but he missed." Apparently the refs, after viewing the replay for a long time, agreed with this logic.

If any readers are on trial for attempted murder, I suggest you hire the Final Four refs to defend you on the basis that no real harm was done.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

What A Dumb Idea

Want to forecast the upcoming MLB season? The hell with those new-age stats, let's use fantasy baseball player rankings!

The results here are pretty predictable: the Reds, who play lousy defense but will get lots of steals from Willy Taveras, are now picked to finish second in their division; the Tigers, with a slow baserunning corps but very good defense, are mired in last place.

Other notable outliers: the Twins apparently won't be affected at all by regression to the mean in 2009, and the Brewers somehow finish behind the Astros (this one has me stumped).

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Financial Hindsight

I've seen a lot of this type of post lately on the Freakonomics blog, among other places: people who "predicted" the current economic situation.

I hope the readers of R-D know this is BS. People make guesses all the time. Sometimes they're right, and point to their correct assessment; but often they are dead wrong, and it gets swept under the rug. This is no different from a sports betting tout service, where they pick approximately 50 percent winners but make it look like much more through creative advertising.

Just in the first two predictions I made here, you can find one that says I'm Nostradamus and another that makes me look like Thomas Malthus. If you wanted to, you could write a blog post calling me either an idiot or a genius, with solid evidence to back it up.

The economy is in its current situation for a lot of reasons, the foremost being that risk is so misunderstood by so many people. That doesn't mean anyone foresaw this exact scenario seven years ago. Stop pretending that they could have.

Monday, March 16, 2009

I Love Steve Phillips

Apparently, Jorge Cantu was getting a little peripatetic during tonight's Mexico/Cuba game. Steve Phillips decided to draw the conclusion that Cantu was tipping Jorge Campillo's pitches--from third base!--and was called out on it by his booth-mates, who challenged Phillips to call the pitches based on Cantu's movement.

ESPN sets up the camera so you can see the entire infield.

Campillo stretches. He throws.

Gun reads: 90 MPH.

Phillips: "Fastball"

Laughter ensues. The other announcers inform Phillips that this is not how their game is played. The camera remains in place, and we see Cantu shift as Campillo delivers the next pitch.

Phillips: "Fastball"

The ball slides out of the zone for ball four. Gun reads: 79 MPH. More laughter ensues. Phillips now defends himself as he was "only wrong once."

(Incidentally, it's too bad Michel Enriquez is not as stupid as Steve Phillips, since I bet on Mexico tonight.)

Steve Phillips is relegated to a baseball tournament that no one wants to watch, while Dane Cook continues to make major motion pictures. Why, America? Why?

Postscript: As I was writing this, Mario Valenzuela just looked at strike three right down the middle, then took a Henry Rowengartner-esque swing two seconds after the ball was in the mitt. You can't make this stuff up.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Memo To ESPN

The Nippon Ham Fighters are not so named because they are Japanese and engage in skirmishes with ham. They are sponsored by a food processing company. That is all.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

More WBC Rants

- The announcers wasted no time bringing up Jimmy Rollins's ninth-inning defense from yesterday. No reason yet to think that they're complete blithering idiots. Then they asked whether Derek Jeter would have made the play on that same ground ball; still no signs of recent severe brain damage. They concluded that on this issue, there's no question. Three for three! Only then do they level you with "you just KNOW he would have found some way to make that play." So close...

I do half-agree with them, in that I KNOW Jeter would have found some way to allow that ball to roll into left field.

- Also amusing: apparently Jeter is upset that he's opening tonight's game on the bench. Didn't they announce a week ago that he and Rollins would alternate games? Maybe Jeter assumed this was a joke, since he's the captain of everything?

- The fantasy tidbits on the bottomline are just amazingly useless. You say Andruw Jones is on your list of fantasy fallers? Golly, my 1999 fantasy mag calls him a "rising star"! Thanks, ESPN!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

WBC Game 1 Rants

- How can ESPN fail to correctly identify the biggest city in China? I would think the whole point of these factoids about far-away countries is to provide some cultural awareness to USA viewers, but apparently accuracy is not an issue. Perhaps the researcher they assigned to this story looked up "China" on Wikipedia, failed to find the answer in the article, and just went with the only Chinese city he'd heard of, where that pothead won all those medals last year.

- How many times do you think any Japanese person has ever referred to Kyuji Fujikawa as "the Brad Lidge of Japan"? I'm going to go with a big fat zero; however, I did find it amusing that this metaphor, which could have caused an international incident at this time last year, is instead now meant as a compliment.

- That line aside, the gaijin commentators--as always--compared the Japanese players they don't know to other Japanese players they do know. This is nothing new, but I suppose it's one of the least harmful forms of racism out there, so it's hard to get too worked up about it.

- Japan, despite dominating the game, failed to cover the spread by a full 7.5 runs. I guess that's one thing China can be proud of.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Forecasting

It's funny how statistical forecasting is perceived. When a baseball analyst designs an ingenious method to project how the season will play out, all people can talk about is how the system is selling their team short, or how it missed on their team three years ago, so it will again this year. When that same analyst starts blogging about an ingenious method to project election outcomes, all of a sudden he's the greatest thing since sliced bread, despite limited evidence that his work represents any substantial improvement over what we were doing before.

I hope I don't sound too flippant here; I know the vast majority of Americans (unlike me) cared more about who came out on top last November than who came out on top last October. Still, Nate Silver's image makes for an interesting case study. Why is so much praise heaped upon him for his election predictions, which were essentially the same as many other forecasters', while so much scorn meets his accurate but contrarian baseball picks?

Well, the contrarian part is a good place to start: people don't like it when computers buck popular opinion or recent trends. When computers recommended a less aggressive strategy for buying real estate and stocks, people instead looked at recent upward trends and gambled their savings away. When the BCS computers suggested a different national championship matchup than the human polls, the system was changed so that the computers would agree with the pollsters; now the BCS rankings, which were built to reflect a spectrum of opinions, instead simply reinforce the old way of doing things. If the computer says Obama will win by a larger margin than anticipated, that's basically a reinforcement of the status quo; but saying the White Sox will go from first to last is uncouth and should be ridiculed.

Furthermore, there are the results: Silver was "right" about the U.S. election, but his projected MLB standings constantly "miss"--by an average of 6.54 wins per team since 2003! (More on this later.) This might be a popular way of looking at things, but I retort that an election is simply much easier to forecast than a season of Major League Baseball. It's one game instead of 2430, with much more data and smaller variables.

If you're reading this, you can probably name plenty of instances where one at-bat greatly influenced the outcome of a baseball season. Think Bill Mazeroski, Joe Carter, Bobby Thomson, etc. Outside of a bad Kevin Costner movie, can you name one major election that was similarly influenced by one voter? Compared to simulating an entire season of baseball, forecasting an election is more like picking the winner of the Super Bowl...on the day of the game.

Anyway, now that we're six paragraphs in and you haven't stopped reading, on to my thesis. How bad is it to miss by 6.54 games per team? (We're talking mean absolute error, because a typical PECOTA dissenter doesn't know what a standard deviation is.) If you're not familiar with probability and statistics, 6.54 games probably sounds like a lot, but it isn't.

Perhaps the best way of showing this is to look at an ideal league. Our team, the Average Means, is the very definition of league-average: during each plate appearance, each Means hitter winds up with a single 15.6% of the time, a walk 8.5%, etc. Every pitcher gives up 4.32 earned runs and .37 unearned runs per game in front of a league-average defense. Furthermore, the Means play such a consistently average schedule that they have exactly a 50% chance of winning every game. If we had to predict the Means' record in the upcoming season, obviously we would tab them to go 81-81, but how often would we be right?

Perhaps surprisingly, the Means would win exactly 81 games just 6.26% of the time; 90% of the time, they would win between 71 and 91 games inclusive. On average, our 81-win forecast would miss by 5.07 games. That's not very far from 6.54--and remember, that's the absolute best we can do with perfect information. In the real world, we have to deal with injuries, trades, and Andruw Jones in Dodger blue. Under those circumstances, an average miss of 6.54 wins is damn good, and the kind of thing I'll gladly take to the bank every year.

Before I go, one more comment. Some White Sox backers are especially angry with PECOTA because it failed to see their 2005 World Series title coming--like every other intelligent analyst on the planet--and has consistently predicted disappointing finishes for them since. This reflects a common error in sports analysis: identifying a team by its uniform rather than its players.

Think back to the 2008 preseason: analysts were touting the Rays as the year's surprise team, but others couldn't get the images of Ryan Rupe and Esteban Yan out of their heads. Nobody was suggesting Rupe and Yan could suddenly turn things around for Tampa; they instead believed that Matt Garza, Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria were good baseball players and thus would make for a good baseball team. Similarly, PECOTA's 2009 White Sox forecast is not an attempt to take away their World Series trophy. Only six players remain from the '05 squad, and that generously counts Jose Contreras, who may not pitch at all this year. Even if Nate Silver completely whiffed on the '05 projections for Jon Garland and Dustin Hermanson, what difference does that make for this year's Pale Hose?

If you don't like the computer forecast for your favorite team, you don't have to believe the results, or even read them at all. Just don't declare that the computer is flat wrong, unless you want to put your money where your mouth is. If you do, great, I could use a new house.

Suggested reading: Randomness in Team Standings Predictions. Since 2003, PECOTA has a standard deviation of 8.67 games against the actual results, versus an ideal of about 6.3 games.

Valuing a GM

From Rob Neyer today:

"The blog Fire Jim Bowden has done a fantastic job of rounding up information about LaCava, including this choice comment from Keith Law: "Going from Jim Bowden to Tony LaCava would be like going from Austin Kearns to Albert Pujols." I know Keith was doing an apples-and-oranges thing on purpose, but it's worth noting that the actual difference between a lousy general manager and a great general manager is significantly larger than the difference between Kearns and Pujols. In terms of wins and losses, I mean."

This is just not an accurate statement. It's easy to look back and say that Mr. X is a great GM because he ripped off Mr. Y in a trade four years ago, but it's a lot harder to predict that your team will add three wins next year because they hired Mr. A as GM instead of Mr. B. Identifying the GMs who have performed the best is easy; identifying those who will perform the best in the future is not.

Front office execs may be underpaid as a whole, but if the difference between a lousy GM and a great GM was 'significantly larger' than the seven-win gap between Pujols and Kearns, some team out there would be exploiting that by offering the top GM in the game--whoever it is--a big salary to lure him away from his current job. $5 million ought to be way more than enough, and if that's really worth more than seven wins, that would be an absolute steal in today's MLB. It says a lot that no GM is making anywhere close to that much.

For Rob Neyer's sake, I hope this was just a typo.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Slowrolled

I walked into the Wynn sportsbook today to bet some baseball futures. On the area of the big board where they normally rotate odds for the World Series and AL/NL pennants, today they had odds for the Academy Awards. Some highlights:

Best Movie
Slumdog Millionaire EV

Best Actor
Mickey Rourke 6-5

Best Actress
Kate Winslet 8-5

Best Supporting Actor
Heath Ledger 1-5

Best Supporting Actress
Penelope Cruz 5-1

Best Director
Danny Boyle 3-5

I don't watch awards shows, but I do love making money from incompetent bookies. With my mind racing over what car I should buy with my winnings, I headed to the window.

Me: "Oscars, please."
Writer: "Sorry sir, those odds are for entertainment purposes only."
Me: (stunned silence)

So, I guess this is some idiotic publicity stunt. I certainly hope it backfires on Steve Wynn; setting fake odds for a major media event and refusing to book any action is definitely one of the most douchebaggy moves I can think of.

They're On To Us

The Venetian is the first major sportsbook to post over-under numbers for MLB season wins that are actually open for betting, and I'm surprised on many levels. Firstly, I expected these to show up on BetCRIS or The Greek before any live books. What's really stunning, however, are the numbers themselves.

I copied the teams in the exact order they're listed on the betting sheet. Ordinarily, you expect some logical pattern to the teams' order: they could be sorted alphabetically, or from most wins to least, or by their 2008 records. The sheet doesn't follow any of these conventions; top-to-bottom, it resembles a set of 2009 power rankings written by an unsophisticated analyst. Notice that the win totals jump up and down almost haphazardly.

Furthermore, the win totals are inconsistent with the futures odds offered by the very same book. To wit:

Brewers
O/U wins: 84.5
Odds to win NL: 18-1
Odds to win WS: 55-1

Astros
O/U wins: 72.5
Odds to win NL: 14-1
Odds to win WS: 40-1

Now, I understand that these are two separate betting markets, and the sports betting market as a whole is certainly not efficient. Still, there's no way the same oddsmaker could come up with such inconsistent odds for two teams in the same division--unless he had a big change of heart.

So what happened here? The World Series and Pennant odds were released last October, and while they've moved in response to bets and free agency, for the most part they haven't changed much. The season wins lines, however, came out this week. During that four month gap, it appears the Venetian was influenced by, ahem, an unpaid consultant.

I don't know why the Venetian is suddenly paying attention to Baseball Prospectus this year, but the evidence is too damning to ignore. I'm interested to see how other sportsbooks will handle their season wins markets: do they post similar numbers to avoid arbitrage, or shade the lines closer to where the public feels they should be? Only time will tell.

2009 MLB Season Wins Over/Under Numbers

From the Venetian:
Yankees 96.5
Cubs 95.5
Red Sox 95.5
Phillies 88.5
Mets 89.5
Dodgers 83.5
Angels 85.5
Rays 90.5
Diamondbacks 87.5
Indians 84.5
Cardinals 81.5
Twins 80.5
White Sox 76.5
Tigers 79.5
Brewers 84.5
Athletics 81.5
Braves 85.5
Rockies 78.5
Marlins 74.5
Astros 72.5
Giants 79.5
Blue Jays 81.5
Rangers 74.5
Reds 77.5
Orioles 74.5
Mariners 71.5
Padres 72.5
Nationals 73.5
Royals 74.5
Pirates 67.5

I'll have more to say on these numbers in my next post. For now, this is the first time I think I've ever been the first to leak anything to the public, so I see no reason to delay it with analysis.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Links and Rants

It's that time of year again.

If you're upset that you won't be seeing Ichiro pitch, this might give you something to root for. Well, except for the part where Boyd compares himself to Satchel Paige.

On a similar note, while I'm sick of the A-Rod saga, I can only name one player that I really hope was clean throughout his career: Julio Franco. I don't begrudge any player for juicing when it was clearly in his best interests to do so, but the Franco story--a dozen raw eggs a day, some lean meat, and a strict workout regimen keeps him in the majors through age 48--still appeals to me.

After reading this and watching The Daily Show coverage of Obama's Florida visit, I can't help but wonder: does everyone in the USA really think Barack is their savior? If the expectations for him are this high, what does he need to accomplish as president to avoid being labeled a failure?

Friday, February 06, 2009

Quick Bites

- I know news is slow these days, but it's still unacceptable that Michael Phelps is getting more flak for the bong photo than he did for his DUI. I'm not a 420er, but one doesn't have to be to realize the difference between a victimless crime and a hazardous one.

No one was harmed by Phelps's DUI, you say? What a results-oriented way to look at things. We might as well fire a gun into a crowd of people and hope the bullet misses everyone.

- This thread, especially post 5, illustrates why sports betting forums are awesome for everything except advice you can actually take to the bank.

- The question everyone is asking: Who will be this year's Rays? The quick answer: No one. Turnarounds like that require a confluence of lots of factors: A very talented young team that was very unlucky last year, plus a smart front office that added the necessary missing pieces. Does that sound like the Pirates, Royals, Orioles or Nationals?

There are certainly teams that will improve upon last year's results; I can think of three off the top of my head that will probably add 10 or more wins each. But none of the long-suffering franchises are likely to make any noise in 2009.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Reliability

I hate hate HATE articles like this one. The author--and readers--are searching for some magic point where a statistic (in this case, BABIP) suddenly gains credibility. One might as well ask how many dates you have to go on before your girlfriend spontaneously switches from 'gold-digging whore' to 'future Mrs. Sabermetrician'.

In a way, I feel the linked post is the best of its kind, because rather than pretending to be scientific, it admits (albeit in the last paragraph) that it has been a waste of the reader's time:

"This isn't a very functionally useful finding for evaluating players or predicting what they will do."

Translation: forget everything you just read, you'll never use it. Pizza Cutter should pitch a new book idea to Michael Lewis: "Chaosball: The Art of Not Predicting a Random Walk".

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I Try To Sympathize

...with people who have been hit hard by the economy, but sometimes it's just difficult:

"It may be a gag, but from the looks of this eBay page, someone just sold the naming rights for her unborn baby — and two pairs of Nike Air baby booties — for $4,050."

Those must be some pimp booties. But the real stars of the show are the comments:

"I am personally against selling the naming rights of your unborn baby to a stranger, but with the economic situation that is going on around the world, it might be the only way to get some money. If people have enough money to live well, then, they should not sell the naming rights of their son, but if the money they have is not being enough, and selling the naming rights is the only way to get some money, then, as a rational human being, the right thing to do would be to sell the naming rights."

I'm sure when the child is being beaten mercilessly at school, he'll be comforted in the knowledge that his name was "the right thing to do".

"I just want to remind everyone that the last online name-a-real-life-person contest that I heard of resulted in a guy being named “Sunshine Megatron”.

Not making this up.
Kurt (email) - 21 01 09 - 06:55

Kurt – well, I guess he could have people call him Sunny… or Mega.
Tanya (email) - 21 01 09 - 07:11"

Monday, January 19, 2009

Math Abuse

In the midst of an otherwise very interesting article about Batting Average on Balls In Play:

"Our regression model yields an R-squared value of .348, and all non-vector explanatory variables are significant at the 1 percent level. This suggests that the factors included are all highly significant, and jointly explain roughly 35 percent of the variance in a hitter’s BABIP. As an additional test of accuracy, we find a robust 59 percent correlation between actual and predicted BABIP for all players in our sample."

Imagine one of your college math lectures. After the professor fills the chalkboard with algebra, he concludes with a flourish, "so x^2 = 4, as we anticipated. But, as an additional test of accuracy, we see that x = +/-2." That's basically how I read this excerpt.

Still, it's a good article, and if you're into hardcore baseball math, you should read the whole thing.

Things I Learned From Bookies This Week

1. Sometimes, Super Bowl props can be hazardous to your bankroll


Hey, he's grizzled; he'll probably win it anyway even if the Cardinals lose by double digits.

2. Parlaying every game money line for the Cardinals would have paid 105-1 on them to win the Super Bowl.

What's the payout on your futures ticket?

3. Vegas books are scared of baseball futures bettors

Here was a typical conversation from my latest excursion:

Me: "Number XXXX"
Ticket writer: "For how much?"
Me: "Can I bet $5000?"
Ticket writer: "Sure, that shouldn't be a problem. Key!"
Me: (giddy with possibilities)
(Manager walks over, looks at bet request, does double take, picks up phone)
Manager: (Frantically speaks with superiors) "We can approve $500"
Me: (sighs)

Monday, January 12, 2009

What News Sounds Like To Me

One unfortunate consequence of going to the gym is that intellectually stimulating television is banned from the premises. Watching an iPod video is difficult when bouncing up and down on a workout machine, so I usually settle for listening to music and watching the captions on ESPN or CNN, depending on how masochistic I feel.

Maybe I'm just insensitive to the current state of the economy because it hasn't affected me personally, but here's how I translated today's headlines during my workout:

---

Story: Americans forced to cut back spending during hard times

What I hear: People chose to make risky investments instead of safe ones, believing that the market had nowhere to go but up. Unluckily, they got burned.

My analogy: ESPN convinces me that UNC is sure to go undefeated this year. I bet heavily on them to win their first two conference games; despite being big favorites, they lose both, costing me a huge fraction of my bankroll. Damn you, ESPN!

---

Story: Obama, Bush request more money for bailout

What I hear: Businesses take risks that don't pan out, and kindly request that taxpayers bear the downside of that risk.

My analogy: I average a loss of $2000 per bet I place, but I'm determined to keep at it instead of letting my German and Japanese friends--who are pro handicappers--make my picks for me. When I go broke, I demand that the government give me some money so I can resume betting and losing. Damn you, bookies!

---

Story: Economy forces Californians to flee

What I hear: People choosing to live beyond their means complain that they can't afford to do so.

My analogy: I'm happy living in Henderson, but I saw a commercial that people have more fun in the Playboy Suite at the Palms, so I sign a lease there. $25,000/night is pretty steep, but it comes with my own personal butler! After a couple of months, my bank account runs dry, and I grudgingly move out. Damn you, economy!

---

Story: Credit card companies continue to charge high interest rates

What I hear: Two possibilities. People either think credit card companies should not be allowed to turn a profit, or they believe they should be able to borrow as much money as they want without paying interest.

Or, to put it another way, people choosing to live beyond their means complain that they can't afford to do so.

Personal analogy: My goal is to lose fifteen pounds in the next six months. I could cut out desserts or join a gym, but what I really want right now is to eat a whole cheesecake, then take a nap; I tell myself that I'll eat a salad and work out tomorrow. Six months from now, when I haven't lost any weight, I blame my body for not metabolizing food fast enough. Damn you, body!

---

I might be crazy, but to me it seems like there are only two kinds of news stories these days:

- "I want to spend money that I don't have, but they won't let me. This isn't fair!"
- "I took a risk and it didn't work out. Save me!"

Personally, I like Tim Harford's take on the economic crisis.

Things I Learned From Bookies This Week

1. I should have bet more on the Steelers to win the Super Bowl.

Well, obviously. After all, they advanced to the semifinals and the Panthers--my big futures play this season--didn't. But even from a results-disoriented approach, it appears that Steelers futures were even more underpriced than I thought.

I'm not a football handicapper, so I wasn't sure how much the Steelers would be favored by in the AFC Championship game. I did have clues: The Greek posted an early line of Baltimore+3.5 on Sunday morning, and the market price for Pittsburgh futures seemed consistent with the +3.5 line.

Pittsburgh is actually favored by 6--a huge difference. I stopped buying Steelers futures when their odds to win the Super Bowl dropped below +500 (at the start of the playoffs) but that was actually much too conservative. I also thought +300 was a fair line on Sunday morning, when it turns out that would have been a great bet. Oh well.

2. Betting futures on low-seeded teams is rarely a good idea.

The Cardinals have taken the path of least resistance to the Super Bowl--they've now drawn their easiest potential opponent twice in a row. Still, if you bet the Arizona money line in the first round of the playoffs and let it ride in rounds 2 and 3, you'd now be getting +2700 on your initial investment, and that's better than any line you could have found on them to win the NFC at the playoffs' outset. Remember, the Cardinals were almost 2-1 favorites to face the Giants this week instead of the Eagles, which would leave them as considerably bigger underdogs.

I noted a similar but more profound effect in last year's playoffs.

3. The Cavaliers have made some serious headway.

I don't follow basketball, but I'm still a bit nonplussed at seeing a non-Celtics team as the new favorites to win the Eastern Conference.

Apparently I've also forgotten how uncompetitive the NBA East is. Right now, The Greek has posted odds on Eastern Conference Divisions--but really, you can bet on which team will finish second in the Atlantic or which team will finish last in the Central. Nice.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Look Before You Leap

I began tonight's Fiesta Bowl without a rooting interest, but I ended it with one. That's one consequence of always rooting against stupid decisions.

Ohio State scored a touchdown with 2:05 left in tonight's game, putting them up 21-17. The two teams had a combined five timeouts left, so the game was far from over. Jim Tressel then called for a two-point conversion.

I assume you know what happened in the game, so there's not much point in hiding the results from you. Still, why go for two here?

The goal, of course, is to extend the lead to six in the hopes that the opponents will miss their PAT (after scoring a touchdown) and the game will be tied. Assuming they score, this scenario will happen maybe 1% of the time. (Texas was 71-71 on extra points this year at the time of the decision.) Then, if OSU fails to retaliate with a score, we head to overtime instead of seeing a Mack Brown Gatorade shower.

Meanwhile, what happens when the Buckeyes miss--as they did--and Texas scores a TD? Now if OSU responds with a field goal, this will merely tie the game instead of winning it.

So, we have two possible scenarios where the decision to go for two will influence the outcome. We will assume Texas scores a touchdown, since the point is moot otherwise:

- If OSU succeeds AND Texas misses the extra point AND OSU fails to score in response, this will change a Texas win into an overtime game.
- If OSU fails AND Texas makes the extra point AND OSU kicks a field goal in response, this will change an OSU win into an overtime game.

My quick-and-dirty estimates say that the Buckeyes make the 2-point conversion 45% of the time, the Texas PAT is good 99% of the time, and Ohio State wins 45% of the overtime contests. Using these figures, going for two is only a good play if you believe that OSU's chances of kicking a game-winning/tying field goal at the end of regulation are less than...

Drumroll please...

0.7%.

As in, one time in 140.

Jim Tressel apparently doesn't have much faith in his two-minute offense. Or, like so many coaches, he doesn't think ahead.

I could have better enjoyed the game's conclusion had Ohio State kicked a field goal at the end of regulation and gone on to lose in overtime, but seeing them lose at all was reward enough.

EDIT: I somehow forgot that Texas will go for two in this scenario. Assuming they make it 45% of the time, that changes the break-even percentage to 1.3%, which I still think is way too low to make Tressel's decision correct.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Things I Learned From Bookies This Week

This could become a regular feature. Who knows.

1. The NFL playoff seeding system is messed up.

You probably knew this one already. All four home teams opened as underdogs in Week 1, though the Cardinals closed as favorites. Now the top seeds in both conferences are getting punished with tougher matchups than the 2 seeds.

Of course, you could argue that being the 1 seed is normally such a big advantage that this is a nice equalizer. I still feel that the NFL has by far the best playoff system of the major pro sports.

2. The Greek needs to hire a new oddsmaker.







3. Anyone who makes a preseason futures bet on the Yankees is throwing away money.

NY Yankees win World Series +380
Field wins World Series -475

I really need an account where I don't need to post up the funds in advance. And $10,000 limits on the No.