Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Looking Ahead to 2013

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

Any year you can walk away from is a good one right? I ended 2012 with my family and career intact, so I don’t think I can complain too much. Abby had a great year with her first real birthday party and a good start to kindergarten. I landed a couple of grants and got a couple of big projects off my plate, including the image gallery for the mission.

On the other hand, I had my gallbladder out and had a sudden awful onset of bad migraines, something I still have not quite gotten control of. My mother-in-law died. My stepmother got cancer. We spent a fortune on fertility treatments and got, for all our pains, one miscarriage and a bad MS relapse. So … yeah, not our best year.

In sports, my Braves bowed out in ignominious fashion and the hated New York Giants stomped over the Falcons, Packers and Patriots. On the other hand, the Falcons had another good regular season, the Braves have a lot of young talent and Chipper Jones went out in grand fashion.

Politics? Oh, God. This was one of the most frustrating disillusioning years I can remember. I looked at both parties and eventually slammed my head into the desk and voted for Gary Johnson. We had a huge amount of sound and fury. More digital ink was spilled than ever before. I blogged my guts out over at Right Thinking. And the result? Obama is still President, Congress is still split, Congress is still stupid, the deficit is still huge and the economy is still sluggish.

But, for some strange reason, I have a good feeling about 2013. 2011 was a the year of false hope — personally, professionally and politically. 2012 was a tough grinding exhausting year. But I feel like things have put in motion that will make 2013 suck a lot less. I can’t put my finger on anything specific. That probably means I’m wrong.

Oh, well. Without further ado, my bold predictions for 2013:

  • Alabama over Notre Dame; New England over Green Bay; Miami in the NBA, Cincinnati over the Angels
  • Movies look like a mixed bag. Bad remakes and sequels galore (Evil Dead, GI Joe 2, Hangover 3, Die Hard 5, etc.). Beautiful Creatures and Pacific Rim look hilariously bad. And I’m not optimistic about Oz, Man of Steel or The Great Gatsby even though I want to be. I’m worried Hobbit 2 will suffer from Middle Chapter Syndrome (even more than Hobbit 1 does). But maybe something will surprise us.
  • We’re going to have a debt ceiling crisis that will hurt the economy and result in almost no spending cuts of note. Nevertheless, the economy will lumber on. And, for the first time in years, the deficit will notably shrink.
  • The Supreme Court will have another interesting year, likely striking down Prop 8 but on very narrow grounds.
  • Japan and China will rattle sabers but no fighting will break out. We will probably eventually intervene in Syria. The EU will continue to lumber toward a unified state.
  • So, yeah. Even looking at that, I’m not predicting a great year. But 2012 was so lousy, 2013 is almost bound to be better.

    We must always remember that the arc of history is long and, over the last decade, has pointed toward progress. On a global level, things are improving. Steadily, haltingly, frustratingly. But improving. And maybe 2013 will be the year things start improving around here — slowly, haltingly, frustratingly. In the end, the future is what we create. And I intend to bend my shoulder a little bit more this year and push a little harder.

    2012 League Cups

    Thursday, October 4th, 2012

    Last year, I suggested a way baseball could bring some relevance back to the regular season: by recognizing the team with the best record as the League Champion. This year’s League Champions, under that formulation, would be New York and Washington. I find that a far more useful metric of overall team quality than “made the post-season”.

    Labor Day Linkorama

    Monday, September 3rd, 2012
  • The latest population panic. You would think that having been wrong over and over and over and over and over again for the last five decades would teach these guys some humility. You would think wrong.
  • Five other sports cheats.
  • Thanks Cracked. Thanks a ton. Now that you’ve brought this year old story to my attention, I have something in my eye.
  • See this is why I get nervous about digital content. You don’t own digital content. You only borrow it.
  • The Ewing Theory

    Sunday, August 26th, 2012

    The recent massive trade between Los Angeles and Boston, in which Boston is dumping most of their high-paid stars to LA, has brought the Ewing Theory back into the lexicon. Here is Bill Simmons’ 10-year old explanation of the Ewing Theory. The Ewing Theory — better described as the Ewing Effect — is when a star player leaves a franchise, the media all assume this spells doom for the franchise and the team “inexplicably” (although usually quite explicably, if you look closely) wins anyway. It was first brought into light by Simmons, a writer I generally like, in the context of the Mariners’ surprising 2001 season.

    The Ewing Theory has kicked around for a while and I’ve never liked it. I’ll get into the weeds below but the basic reason is that it exemplifies many of the worst things about sports media coverage and sports fandom. Sports writers and sports fans simple love to tell us how a great player isn’t really that great. They love to talk about how some player they don’t particularly like is really a loser who fails to elevate his team. When a team flops or stumbles or simply can’t win the championship — keeping in mind that winning a championship is a team effort and, by definition, only one team can do it every year — the media/fans will often pick out the best player and vent their frustration on him. And those who never liked him anyway will gloat about his lack of leadership. This tendency has become far worse in the last few decades as player have started to make more and more money.

    But is it possible that a player can, on paper, be really excellent but drag his team down? Well, it’s possible. A great player could eat up so much salary that the team can’t sign other great players. A great player could be blocking an even better player. A team could center their strategy on the great player at the expense of even better components. The latter may especially be true in a sport like football, where there are a lot of moving parts on any team.

    But the Ewing Theory seems to postulate something different: that the very absence of a star player can elevate the existing team to be better. And after looking at it, I’m convinced that this effect either doesn’t exist or is very small. The Ewing Theory keeps foundering on much more secular and concrete explanations.


    Gender Skew in Olympic Coverge

    Sunday, July 29th, 2012

    See, this is why I point and laugh at sociologists:

    [N]early three-quarters of the women’s coverage was devoted to gymnastics, swimming, diving and beach volleyball. Notice anything they have in common? The researchers did. “It is now customary for the participants in all of these events … to wear the equivalent of a bathing suit,” they note in their analysis, which appears in the journal Electronic News.

    Track and field, where the clothing is almost as minimal, made up another 13 percent of the women’s prime-time coverage. “The remaining sports represented—rowing, cycling, and fencing—are not, by traditional standards, ‘socially acceptable’ sports for women, and make up approximately 2 percent of coverage,” the researchers write.

    First of all, it’s common to wear the equivalent of a bathing suit in almost every Olympic event. They cherry-picked this study to 14 events, leaving out things like Tennis, Sailing, Synchronized Swimming and Rhythmic Gymnastics that might dispute their theory. They also made the odd choice of putting cycling in the “non-sexy” category despite the skin-tight outfits that are worn. I’m sure if cycling got more coverage, they’d flip it back into the sexy category.

    Second, they ignored that Americans prefer to watch events where they are likely to medal and the events they list are where we tend to clean up. We don’t win a lot of medals in rowing, cycling or fencing. Softball and soccer get lots of medals and little coverage, true. On the other hand, there have been numerous complaints from the public about the lack of coverage and they only recently became medal events (1996 for both).

    Third, if you look at the study’s graphs, you’ll see that men’s coverage is equally skewed, with almost all the coverage going toward … beach volleyball, diving, gymnastics, swimming, track and volleyball. In short, no one wants to watch fencing. It doesn’t matter if it’s men or women doing it. I don’t want to watch fencing and I used to fence! Maybe if the US started dominating those events, they would be watched.

    Fourth, notice the catch-22 underlying the study. If we aren’t watching women’s events, it’s because of sexism. But when do watch them, the most popular event, by far, is women’s gymnastics. But this just proves our sexism because they’re in leotards!

    Fifth, notice that exceptions to their theory — Lindsey Vonn, Picabo Street, Bonnie Blair, Jackie Joyner Kersey, Wilma Rudolph, etc. — are just ignored. Their theory is deliberately made plastic enough — defining “socially acceptable” sports arbitrarily — that they can sneak any damn conclusion they want into it. I skimmed through the study and found numerous references to track and field being socially unacceptable for women — these studies published at a time when Marion Jones, Flo-Jo and Jackie Joyner Kersey were some of the most popular and recognizable women in the games. I was personally at the 1996 women’s 100m final when Gail Dever and Gwen Torrence finished 1-3. The build-up was huge; the coverage extensive and the stadium exploded when they won.

    What the fuck are these people talking about?

    Now I will let on about one thing. People tend to pay less attention to women when they play sports that were designed by men and emphasize masculine traits like strength. They pay more attention when women play sports designed with women in mind that emphasize feminine traits like grace, coordination and beauty. Gymnastics is popular precisely because the people who designed the sport understand this. The events are very different for the two genders. The men’s events emphasize strength and endurance; the women’s coordination and grace. Both are entertaining, grueling and incredible displays of athleticism; but they are also expertly tailored to the sexes.

    Really, the more I look at this, the more it sounds like someone started out with their conclusion and trolled the data to support it. This is what passes for research in sociology.

    Update: One last point. They complain that women only get 48% of media coverage despite winning 50% of the medals. That … doesn’t really cross me as significant. And breaking the coverage down by athlete is ridiculous. The media’s coverage of the Darling of the Games is notoriously fickle.

    Olympic Records

    Friday, July 27th, 2012

    This interactive graphic, showing how world records in olympic events have changed over time, is pretty damn cool. The improvement in the discus is particularly stunning.

    While part of this has to do with improved training and technology, these are just part of a larger trend of tapping deeper into the human potential. The people we were a century ago were a shadow of what we are now — well-fed people with all our teeth, marbles and bones who can live functionally into our 80′s. Vaccines and the reduction of childhood disease, in particular, have created an explosion in human healthy, lifetime and potential.

    I do think we are reaching the limits this side of genetic engineering. Watch how the records asymptote. I just hope the same isn’t true of our progress in science and technology.

    UK Linkorama

    Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012
  • The rise of resistant diseases is one of the biggest reasons I fear socialized medicine. Innovation is critical to the next century and I am afraid that price controls will kill it.
  • Amazing pictures of the Kowloon City.
  • This is why I read Joe Posnanski religiously. A post about nothing. And it’s beautiful.
  • I was going to write an article taking apart Buzz Blowhard Bissinger on the subject of college football. Now I don’t have to.
  • A study says women value sleep more than sex. This is unsurprising although the reasons are a bit different than what they think. It’s pure economics. For women, sex is available (mostly) when they want it so sleep takes priority. For men, you have to get it when you can, so everything else is secondary. I think Seinfeld did an episode on this, no?
  • Easterbrook Can’t Read

    Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

    The frustrating thing about Gregg Easterbrook is that he often makes good points but goes too far in his argument. Today’s TMQ on how ratings of high school players are a bit overblown:

    Rachel Bachman shows that 54 percent of the high schoolers that earned a five-star ranking, the top classification, not only were not drafted high by the NFL, they were never drafted at all.

    High school football players — being on Rivals, the ESPN 150 or any similar ranking is a big thrill and a way to get college coaches to call your cellphone. But being listed has NOTHING to do with whether your athletic career will go well and might even hold you back by swelling your head.

    A 46% chance of being drafted in the NFL is really good. As Bachman notes, only 10-20% of lower-ranked prospects get drafted. So a five-star prospect is 2-5 times more likely to end up in the NFL than a lower-ranked prospect. And probably even more likely to be there than unranked prospects.

    Scouting is a difficult business. All sports have busts and unexpected stars, despite the tens of millions spent on scouting. It’s fair to say that the ranking is no a guarantee of success. But to say it is unrelated to success is bullshit, because it clearly is.

    Gold Coast Linkorama

    Monday, February 13th, 2012
  • A fascinating look at the ultra-orthodox hasidic sects springing up. I think there would be a lot more panic about this if they followed a different faith.
  • Only in Right-Wing World: a new study comes out with the best constraints yet on glacial melting. And it’s spun as being a huge blow against global warming theory because the melting is less than predicted.
  • Science fiction has ever imagined a universe as incredible as the real thing.
  • Oops. ESPN has some explaining to do.
  • Personally, I seriously doubt that concussions are going to end football. The article is full of weak arguments and assumptions. But I do think the issue of concussions and neurological damage is going to get bigger.
  • Falcon Flight

    Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

    I still like Tuesday Morning Quarterback, but Gregg Easterbook’s ignorant shooting from the hip is beginning to grate.

    TMQ continues to think Atlanta has become so obsessed with its no-huddle offense — everything called at the line, with multiple checks before the snap — that the Falcons are losing track of the fundamentals. When receivers and linemen don’t get the actual call till two seconds before the snap — Matt Ryan sometimes uses more than one “sim” call before he checks to the real play — there just isn’t time to get set mentally.

    Atlanta is 22-3 when it features the run and Michael Turner rushes for at least 100 yards. Of course, some of those games are ones in which Turner got carries because the Falcons had a second-half lead. But the Falcons are trying to be too fancy; they need to go back to basics. The Packers, Patriots and Saints can be super-quick fancy. Ryan is good but he’s not Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady or Drew Brees.

    This is categorical garbage. Atlanta’s season turned around when they de-emphasized their moderately effective running game and leaned more on Matt Ryan. Early in the season, they were fading in the second half because Michael Turner is not the star he was and their running game couldn’t ice games. Don’t believe me. Try Football Outsiders who rank Atlanta with the 8th best passing game and 25th best rushing game. They also rank Turner as the 28th most effective RB, despite the 1300 yards. Meanwhile, Ryan is rated as the 7th best QB in the league. He’s not Rogers, Brady or Brees, but he’s comfortably in the same tier as Manning, Stafford, Romo and Rivers.

    Update When Easterbrook gets his facts, he’s good. The article contains a debunking of the “we’re slashing fire departments” lie making its way through progressive circles.

    Monday Linkorama

    Monday, November 14th, 2011
  • 11 sounds children have never heard. Not included: that Mike Siegel is so attractive. Sadly.
  • Sexy dances moves for men. Really?
  • The physics of angry birds: Seriously.
  • The steroid era was not all that. Totally.
  • Game Six

    Thursday, October 27th, 2011

    You know that excitement index I blogged about? Tonight’s game shattered the record. 4.5 — the highest in 110 years of baseball post-seasons. The old record was 4.1.

    For once, I think the system is right.

    Excitement 2011

    Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

    Back in 2007, I created the excitement index to rate post-seasons. The idea was to create a very simple way of using box scores to measure how exciting a baseball post-season was. It’s quick and dirty; not perfect. I’m sure others have more robust methods that use win probability or something. But it’s mine and I’ve posted on it in 2008 and 2010. The 2007 post has the details, last year’s some more data. Just some highlights:

  • To give you a sense of scale. The average games scores 1.9 points. The average 5-games series scores 7.2. The average 7-game series 10.8. The average modern post-season scores 60 points.
  • The most exciting post-season in history was 2003, which came in at a whopping 74.1 points. You may remember this one as the year both the Red Sox and Cubs were five outs away from a pennant and blew it. Pro-rated, however, the 1991 post-season comes in slightly better (40.2 points pro-rated to 78.5). That was the year the Braves came from nowhere to take the Pirates and then the Twins to seven games.
  • The most boring post-season, as I noted above, was 2007. Five series sweeps and a surprisingly dull 7-game ALCS. It game in at 47.6.
  • The most exciting 7-game series was the 1991 World Series (17.2). As a survivor of that, who watched the greatest Cinderella team ever lose a 7-game heart-breaker, I can vouch for that one. Coming in second is the 2001 World Series (16.1).
  • The dullest 7-game series was 1989′s blowout of San Francisco by Oakland in which the Giants never took a lead. It scored a pathetic 5.4.
  • The most exciting 5-game series was 1980′s Philadelphia-Houston epic ALCS which featured four extra-inning game. At 13.5, it outdid most 7-game series.
  • The most boring 5-gamer was St. Louis blowing out San Diego in the 2005 NLDS. There have been games that have scored better than the 3.9 the whole series did.
  • The most-exciting game, at a whopping 4.1, was game two of the 1997 NLDS. Huh? That game featured 8 ties or lead changes and was won on a walk-off single by Moises Alou. I’m inclined to think this a quirk of the system. Even though game seven of the 2001 world series only score 3.3, I would give that the nod as the greatest game.
  • There are many candidates for boring games. Technically, game seven of the 1996 NLCS scored the lowest (1.06). But the Braves’ 15-0 victory capped a comeback from a 1-3 series deficit. Game five of that series (a 14-0 blowout, 1.07 in the system) is another candidate, as is game one of the World Series that year. But I would probably go with game one of the 2005 ALDS (1.08), Chicago’s 14-2 blowout of Boston.
  • I’ve now taken the database through the entire 20th century. I’ve included the 9-game series of 1903, 1919-1922 and I’ve left out the games from the 1907, 1912 and 1922 series that ended in ties.

    One of the things I love about this exercise is being able to uncover things I didn’t know. For example in 1943 and 1945, the world series used a 3-4, rather than 2-3-2 format, presumably to save expenses. (The 1944 series was all St. Louis). I now feel a great kinship with Brooklyn Dodgers fans, whose world-series losses were as frustrating and agonizing as the 90′s Braves. And one of the great unknown games of all time was Game 3 of the 1914 World Series. Special mention should be made of the 1905 Series, where every game was a shutout.

    The most exciting post-season was 2003. However, the most exciting pro-rated is now the 1972 post-season. After having the ’69-’71 LCS series flop badly (all but one were sweeps), ’72 went the full measure, two 5-game series and one 7-game series. It featured:

  • ALCS Game One: Tied at 1-1 going into the eleventh, Al Kaline hits a homer for Detroit. But with one out, Gonzalo Marquez hits a single that ties it and a Kaline error lets the winning run score.
  • After back-to-back shutouts by Odom and Coleman, ALCS Game Four goes into the 10th tied at 1. Oakland scores two in the top of the 10th, Detroit wins it with three runs in the bottom of the inning.
  • ALCS Game five ends with a tight 3-2 win for Oakland.
  • NLCS Game five has the Reds, down by 1 in the 9th, tie it on Bench’s homer and win it on a wild pitch by Moose. This would be Roberto Clemente’s last game.
  • Six of the world series games are decide by one run. All six are low-scoring thrillers, including a 1-0 game 3. Cincinnati almost comes back down three games to one. In pivotal game four, Oakland scores two in the 9th to win it.
  • All told, it gets 36.16 points, best of the 1969-1984 era and pro-rated to 87 points.

    Anyway, 2011 is shaping up to be a good post-season. With 55 points, it’s guaranteed to be average and a great world series could push it up into the high 60′s, a level not reached since 2003. Five of the six series have been above average although only the Cards-Phils series was really great.

    The League Cup

    Thursday, October 13th, 2011

    Joe Posnanski has a post up about how the best team in the league rarely wins the World Series. This set off a thought.

    I wonder if one thing we could do to increase the drama of the regular season is to give the league championship title to the team with the best record, rather than the one that wins two playoff series. I was inspired in this by the Premier League in England, which gives out a League Cup to the team with the best overall record. It’s not like the FA Cup, which is won in a tournament. But it at least recognizes a season-long achievement. And the best teams in football are those that win the “double” of both cups.

    Baseball has separate leagues, so you would have two teams each year eligible for the “double”. And it seems reasonable to do so since it’s not always clear which league is better (although you could tip it to whichever league wins inter-league play). There’s also the problem of divisions, that the team with the most wins is sometimes from a weak division. Meh. Maybe that will create an incentive to abolish the division structure. I think we would stick with most wins because any scheme to correct for schedule difficulty ends up a matter of opinion and we don’t want this to become the BCS.

    If such a scheme were observed in baseball, here is the list of league champions for the wild card era. I’ve included 1994, when we didn’t have a world series. Bolded teams would have won the “double” for wining the World Series as well.

    1994 – New York (70), Montreal (74)
    1995 – Cleveland (100), Atlanta (90)
    1996 – Cleveland (99), Atlanta (96)
    1997 – Baltimore (98), Atlanta (101)
    1998 – New York (114), Atlanta (106)
    1999 – New York (98), Atlanta (99)
    2000 – Chicago (95), San Francisco (97)
    2001 – Seattle (116), St. Louis/Houston (93)
    2002 – New York/Oakland (103), Atlanta (101)
    2003 – New York (101), Atlanta (101)
    2004 – New York (101), St. Louis (105)
    2005 – Chicago (99), St. Louis (100)
    2006 – New York (97), New York (97)
    2007 – Boston (96), Colorado/Arizona (90)
    2008 – Anaheim (100), Chicago (97)
    2009 – New York (103), Los Angeles (95)
    2010 – Tampa Bay (96), Philadelphia (97)
    2011 – New York (97), Philadelphia (102)

    A few things to note: First, in contrast to the list of World Series winners, the league championship shows a much clearer picture of which teams were dominating baseball. Atlanta would have won five straight championships and seven overall. The Yankees would have won eight. The great Cardinals and Phillies teams would have gone back-to-back. Montreal would have been league champ in the aborted ’94 season. That’s a much cleaner version of baseball history than World Series title.

    Second, notice the teams that win “the double”. The 98-99 Yankees, in the running for greatest team of all -time, win two in a row. The 2007 Boston Red Sox, 1995 Braves, 2005 White Sox and 2009 Yankees also join the list.

    During the 1969-1993 era, when we had playoffs but no wild card, doubles were a lot more common, since you only had four playoff teams, two of which were eligible for the double. But even then, there some standouts, particular the 75-76 Reds and the 92-93 Jays, who won back-to-back doubles.

    I have no illusion that an idea on a backwater blog will get anywhere. Hell, Bob Costas could suggest this and baseball would demur. But if they want to inject just a little bit of drama back into the regular season, maybe recognizing the team with best record would be a good first step.

    And at least I can stop thinking about it now.