Sunday, January 25, 2009


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...


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.