Posts Tagged sports

Patriots make a mockery of 249 to 1 odds against them

Check out this Super Bowl win probability chart by ESPN Stats & Info.  It remains bottomed out at an Atlanta Falcons victory from halftime on to the end of regulation, after which the Patriots ultimately prevail.  When New England settled for a field goal to cut their deficit to 16 points (28-to-12), the ESPN algorithm registered a 0.4% probability for them to win, being 9 minutes and 44 seconds left in the game.  That computes to 249 to 1 odds against a Patriot victory. Ha!

I am not terribly surprised that a team could overcome such odds.  The reason is that on December 29, 2006 I attended the Insight bowl in Tempe, Arizona where the Red Raiders of Texas, after falling behind 38-7 with 7:47 remaining in the third quarter, rallied to score 31 unanswered points and ultimately defeat my Gophers in overtime.  At the time it was the greatest comeback of all time in a bowl game, matched only after another decade passed with the 2016 Alamo Bowl victory by the TCU Horned Frogs, who trailed the Oregon Ducks 0-31 at halftime.  But they had more time than the Gophers to throw away their sure victory.  I entered our 2006 chances of victory in this football win probability calculator.  It says 100.00% that Minnesota must win.  Ha!

The laws of probability, so true in general, so fallacious in particular.

– Edward Gibbon

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Stats reveal real ace of Twins pitching staff

Twins fever is running rampant now in Minnesota.  The home baseball club is leading their division and riding a wave of popularity with a new stadium and a home-town hero (Joe Mauer – a fellow graduate of my high school in Saint Paul).  Over dinner this week with a colleague and a master statistician in town for a visit the talk turned to the Twins and who now should be considered their ace pitcher – Carl Pavano or Francisco Liriano.  Although appreciative of Pavano’s consistently good performance over the entire year, I felt that Liriano has come on stronger in the second half of the season.  Having reached a stalemate, the three of us agreed that the data might tell the story.

I found everything I needed to make my case for Liriano at ESPN’s statistics site for Major League Baseball.  Here is the pitching “split” for the second half of the MLB season so far for Liriano vs Pavano; respectively:

  • Win-Loss: 7-0 vs 6-4
  • WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched): 1.27 vs 1.32
  • ERA (earned run average): 2.22 vs 3.41

Pavano is good, but Liriano is my pick as the current ace of the Minnesota Twins pitching staff.  Why argue with words?  Let the data speak.

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An ideal world: Ballpark beer cost correlated completely with quality of baseball

Indian's lefty Laffer delivers a pitch to Twin's slugger Cuddyer

Indian's lefty Laffer delivers a pitch to Twin's slugger Cuddyer

When offered a free $149 seat behind home plate, I abandoned my desk last Wednesday for a matinee game between Minnesota and Cleveland.  It was dollar-a-dog day so I enjoyed a $2 lunch washed down by what the Wall Street Journal (9/11/09) considers to be one of the Major League’s best-valued beer.  They figure that the cost per ounce of brew – 27 cents at the Metrodome — should be based solely on the quality of the team.

The Twins have been consistent winners for some years and remain in the hunt for the Central Division of the American League after winning 2 out of 3 from the Detroit Tigers this weekend.  Nevertheless, they chronically play second-fiddle to East Coast teams like the Boston Red Sox.  WSJ reports that the crimson-hoser’s home field, Fenway Park, charges more than twice as much for beer for the Twins – far more than they merit by their winning percentage – a 46% overcharge, to be precise.  Boston fares poorly on price-to-value across the board according to this in-depth analysis by a blogger writing as “JinAZ” for Beyond the Box Score – a Saber*-Slanted Baseball Community.

However, being a lifelong fan of baseball, and having been to many ballparks around the League, but never Fenway, I’d gladly pay a premium to see the Red Sox some day.  (That explains why they can charge so much!)

*Referring to sabermetrics — a statistician specializing on baseball

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Close encounters with improbable events (‘Goofers’) and implausible beliefs (Martians)

On my flight home yesterday from vacation in Arizona and New Mexico, a lady from Santa Fe asked about my screen saver showing photographic evidence from NASA that water flows freely on the surface of Mars. She told me that this is just a cover up by the US Government of Martians living under the surface of their planet. “The truth will come out soon,” this New Mexican said, “They cannot suppress the bloggers who know that aliens really do exist.

Photo by H. P. Anderson

Photo by H. P. Anderson

I suspect this woman scoffed at NASA’s high resolution photos taken in July of the Face on Mars showing it to be only a geological mesa — not an artificial monument by extraterrestials. The diehard believers in Martians, represented by a caller to the Art Bell “Coast to Coast” radio show, say that NASA dropped a nuclear bomb this structure to de-face it!

My trip last week featured a few other improbabilities. Its purpose was to see the Minnesota Gopher football team play in the Insight Bowl at Arizona State University’s stadium in the Phoenix area. Us Minnesotans cheered wildly as our team went up by 31 points past the halfway point of the game. Sadly, the ‘Goofers’ blew their seemingly insurmountable lead and let the Red Raiders of Texas Tech win in overtime. This reportedly was the biggest comeback in a Division 1A bowl. Cursory research on the history of bowl games shows them going back over a century with accelerating frequency in recent years — perhaps a few thousand games in all. I suppose I should feel lucky to see this unlikely event, but what really pleases me is that the coach got fired immediately afterwards.

The other unusual event experienced by me and my traveling companions was a record 16 inch snowfall in Albuquerque where I’d booked our flights to save on airfare. Fortunately the weather cleared just in time for takeoff. En route to the airport we stopped at Meteor Crater where NASA astronauts train for extraterrestial missions. Some people, like my fellow traveler from Santa Fe, believe that this was where the NASA perpetrated the hoax of man traveling to the moon. After seeing the Minnesota team implode at the Insight Bowl and then on my trip home almost getting stuck in over a foot of snow in supposedly sunny New Mexico, I am ready to believe that just about anything can happen. Come on NASA — quit covering up: Bring on those eight-fingered aliens! By the way, how are they at handling oblate spheroids?

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Minnesota Twins beat the statistical odds once again

On May 17 I reported that sabermetrician Clay Davenport computed 200 to 1 against the Minnesota Twins making the Major League Baseball playoffs. Guess what? Not only did they achieve a place in post-season, they won their divisional championship. Granted, it was very unlikely the way the Twins turned their season around, and it was downright surrealistic for them to end up in first after their very last game. As I blogged earlier, statistics be damned by what we now know: 
Twins win improbable division title

One might do well by betting on the Twins when they are down again in future. For example,at the beginning of the 1991 baseball season, odds on 1990’s last-place Twins winning this year’s title were 100-1. They ended up as the World Series champs. Similarly, in 1987 the Twins went all the way in Major League Baseball. Prior to that season I went to Las Vegas for a conference and saw a betting board with odds at 100 to 1 against the Twins winning the championship. Ever since I’ve second-guessed myself for not betting anything — even $10 would have netted me $1000! Unfortunately, I am a man of little faith in the face of such overwhelming statistics.

PS. Post season results were not good — three games and out for the Twins in their playoff series with Oakland. 🙁 This is a triumph for sabermetrics because the Athletics are led by its biggest proponent —Billy Beane.

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Economists shave hairs on whether basketball games are fixed: Any bets on who wins?

In my March 26 blog I reported that ‘forensic economist’ Justin Wolfers, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, inferred point-shaving from his statistical analysis of 44,120 NCAA Division I basketball games between 1989 and 2005. This new study by University of Illinois economist Dan Bernhardt disputes Wolfer’s contention that statistics indicate point-shaving on college basketball. Perhaps it’s only natural that superior teams fall short of expectations on their winning margin. According to Professor Bernhardt “the statistical properties that Wolfers identified in his paper seem to be intrinsic to the game of basketball itself, occurring independently of whether there are incentives to point shave, and are not indicative of an epidemic of gambling-related corruption.”
It’s good that this new analysis dissipates the cloud of suspicion about point-shaving raised by the first study.

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