Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Lesson in Psychic Reward to Winning

The economic model of an athletic tournament (and similarly job promotions, or anything with a prize) generally relies on a few simple things. First, the prize must be big enough to incent effort from all parties and structured so that players are not highly rewarded for mediocre performance. Second, the competitors in the tournament should be of relatively equal playing strength so that they do not perceive there to be too large a gap between them and their competitors, and therefore give less effort. Full effort in a tournament like Wimbeldon is paramount in keeping interest. If Nadal finds it too easy to win, he won't give a full effort and fans lose out as they don't see his amazing athleticism. If Mahut thinks there's no way he'll win no matter what, he might show up and stand there while Nadal aces him out of the tourney. Some players should be better and some worse, but in the end each person must gain positive or net zero expected value from competing in the tournament. In other words, the toll the tournament takes on the competitor (training costs, travel costs, the effect on future competitions, etc.) should not be negative with respect to the expected prize and expected chances of winning. But that's assuming a single match doesn't significantly reduce the expected value of other matches in the tournament and other tournaments!

Now, that's a very simple and brief generalization, but it makes the point of what we expect to incent players in a Tennis tournament: winning a big prize. But looking at the incredibly long matchup between Isner and Mahut, it makes us realize that in a sporting contest (and perhaps in a promotion competition at a job) there is utility gained from the prestige of winning even part of the tournament, irrespective of expected prize.

Isner is currently ranked #19 in the WTP Men's Singles Rankings, while Mahut isn't even in the Top 100. This article gives an idea of the toll it takes on one's body. That's not to mention Isner is playing in a 6 foot 9 inch frame...hardly conducive to running around for 10 hours straight. I would have expected one of the two to slightly miss and end the match at some point so they would not have to play on anymore. Woopsy! Not necessarily fix the match, but come to the conclusion that the reward is not worth the effort.

With respect to Mahut, he's not expected to cash big to begin with (Ranked #148). With respect to Isner, he has significant stake in future tournaments as well. Given the toll this could take on his body, it could cost him financial gains in the future (and actually gains in utility he may get from being a winner). At the very least, whoever wins the match is almost certainly going to be too tired to compete in the next one against a better opponent. So what's the point?

This is Wimbeldon. Other tournaments are not.

Apparently both of these guys have exorbidant pride. Some may call the behavior irrational at this point in the match...but those people would underestimate the power of winning a match at Wimbeldon. I'd say it's more worthwhile for Mahut to keep going than Isner. I don't think Isner could compete with anyone in the next round after this (and neither could Mahut), but Mahut may not get another chance at beating a Top 20 player for the rest of his career. And he's got a lot less going for him in future tournaments, where he's probably going to lose whether he's worn out or not. It should be interesting to see what happens today. Does someone give up? Will it end? Will either player be able to move tomorrow?

Time will tell--well, maybe--but no matter who wins (or even if they win any more matches for the rest of their respective careers), they'll be in the history books

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Congrats to Kurt

Just wanted to send out my congratulations to Kurt Voytell, who was recently named to the JUCO All-America Team and will be playing at Towson next year. Kurt was a hell of a ballplayer in high school, who unfortunately tore his ACL his senior year. Top tier programs like LSU and Stanford had apparently shown interest in him before blowing out his knee.

Considering I was the pitching coach at Urbana (where he played and I also played back in the day and coached for a year after college), I CERTAINLY CANNOT say I had anything to do with his progression as a player. He was one of those guys that seemed to care more about baseball than the other guys that used the sport as 'something to do' in the spring, and it showed. It showed well enough that he hit .462 and get named an All-American at Potomac State. Hopefully he'll stand out at Towson, too.

Hat Tip: UHS Skipper Mike Frownfelter

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Questionable "Economic Impact"

Apparently, at least one economist believes that Baylor competing in the Big 12 (as opposed to another conference) is worth about $714 million and 5,700 jobs ANNUALLY!!! They claim it's because of the Texas rivalries. Has anyone ever watched Baylor football? That's like saying the University of Maryland and my Division III alma mater St. Mary's College of Maryland are heated rivals. And we didn't even have a football team.

Come on.

Baylor played Texas at home last season. Not Oklahoma. Not Nebraska. I'm going to find it extremely hard to believe that Texas managed to provide almost the entire $714 million out of this rivalry from hotel stays, etc. (to be fair, he says Waco would see about $197 million of this dropoff). I'm not sure that Texas Tech or Texas A&M are significant enough to even bother with. Sure, you won't have those Texas fans coming to town every other year (who are apparently exorbidantly rich). But guess what...Baylor will play football against someone else!

Certainly, the evaporation of the Big 12 will hurt Baylor The Athletic Department. But even if they no longer get to play Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska, they'll be playing someone else. That means people will be staying in hotels, eating food, etc. Maybe there won't be as many...but you're not talking about $200 million! That's the kind of estimate left for having the government build a brand new stadium to keep a team in town. We're talking about Baylor here, not the Yankees.

I don't really understand why they were in the Big 12 to begin with, though. What have they got to offer the Big 12 television contract? Women's basketball? Their men's basketball team did pretty well this year. But $714 million?

Let's take Baylor and Perryman's obvious bias (a Baylor grad and former professor there) out of this one. Let's say Texas A&M goes to the SEC and the other bunch (Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State) go to the Pac-10. The latter 4 will still play each other. They'll still have those rivalries with one another. IF ANYTHING they'll be making new rivalries with bigger schools with fans who have deeper pockets in California. In addition, those fans come from out of state. Therefore, when they travel with the team, they end up spending money in Texas that wouldn't have otherwise been there, rather than Austin residents transferring their money over to Waco when Baylor has a home game. I'm not trying to make a case that it's big money for the state (the benefits will come to the schools), but let's try to account for everything here.

Dr. Perryman is certainly a smart man, but someone must have him in their pocket on this one.

Link to the full article.

Hat Tip: Rational Pastime.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

USC to See Huge Sanctions

It's been reported that USC will face significant sanctions due to its football players' (ahem, Reggie Bush) activities during it's amazing run in the 2004 and 2005 seasons (among others). This isn't a huge surprise, but it's apparently one of the largest penalties ever. They could lose their National Championship and Reggie Bush may be asked for his Heisman trophy. There could also be 20 scholarships taken away.

If this is the case, USC football may not ever fully recover to its greatness in recent times. Pete Carroll obviously saw this coming, as he took the NFL head coaching job with Seattle. Reggie Bush probably doesn't mind so much giving back his Heisman. After all, he knows he won it, and now he has the Lombardi Trophy to replace it (well, personally he just gets a ring).

The NCAA creates this problem, and then tries to come across as the good guy in all of this for punishing the school. This is what happens when you use people as slave labor who have value to others, but you regulate their choices: they find ways around them and the only ones that get hurt by it are others. Especially in LA. It creates all sorts of incentive problems with college athletes, namely in Basketball and Football. Why? Well because of the limited time each player is even allowed to play. They have no future investment in the team or the school, so going against the regulations doesn't affect them one bit. The NCAA essentially takes poor families and forces them to continue to be poor for extra time. Granted, there is certainly something to 'amateur' sports, but that's not really what college Basketball and Football actually are. They're minor leagues, plain and simple.

Assuming Reggie Bush DID commit these offenses, what does he care at that time? Even by the time they would find out (um, now), he'll be long gone. Other than his Heisman, he sees no reprocussions to the sanctions at USC. What incentive does he have NOT to take money? Perhaps his teammates might be mad, but his teammates are now the Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints. You could say, "Well his name is tarnished...yadda yadda yadda." He still got paid. Chris Webber and the bunch seemed to do pretty well after leaving Michigan, no? The ones really losing out are USC fans and players that have already committed to play in the program. I doubt Reggie has any significant personal ties with them, especially with Pete Carroll gone.

Carroll and Bush: 10.
USC and the NCAA: -100.

I'm curious what would have happened with OJ Mayo. But again, the NCAA created that problem as well by making a deal with the NBA to require high school play a year in college before being drafted (don't tell me they didn't have a part in that). Of course, they do have to enforce their rules...but I would argue that it's better for them to allow USC to continue winning at a high rate for its Los Angeles fans.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Token Strasburg Post

Obviously, every baseball website has something about Stephen Strasburg going on today. Nick Steiner has a great analysis of his Pitch F/X performance, and here's the ridiculous parts of the analysis:

1. Strasburg topped 100 mph more than once.

2. His changeup is 91-93 mph, the average MLB fastball.

3. His curveball moves as much as the consensus 'best' curve in the majors (Adam Wainwright), but it's 10 mph faster.

4. His location could be better.

I watched the entire game last night on MLB Network, and I agree with #4. Of course, when you have the stuff Strasburg has, it doesn't matter as much. And the HR that Delwyn Young hit must have gotten in the wind, because that was an anklish high changeup that he hit with his wrists.

But Pitch F/X also doesn't show the full story of leaving the ball up. If you watch the game, there were a number of instances where Strasburg did not hit the spot that Pudge had set up for him. Inside pitches ended up outside, etc. I don't think the height of the fastball is a great way to go about looking at his location, as he was using the high fastball to get swings and misses on purpose. Here's the concern I have about his location (graph from Brooks Basbeall because I haven't downloaded 2010 Pitch F/X data yet...luckily they have the perfect plot for this discussion).

You can see that in the middle of the game, Strasburg started laying off his velocity a bit. I assume this wasn't a result of any arm problem, as the velocity returned later on. But it also coincides with when he gave up his 2 runs. Look at the dip, where 3 of the 4 hits he gave up occurred (the other was on a 100+ mph fastball, but I'm pretty sure that was right down the middle).

You can see the velocity dip on all 3 of those pitches that were hit (elegantly circled by me in MS Paint). Now, the Delwyn Young HR was kind of flukey, but the other 3 hits he gave up were pitches generally down the heart of the plate. If Strasburg isn't throwing his full velocity potential, he's going to have to locate better than he did last night, and hit the glove a little more. If he's able to throw his stuff throughout the game, well then whatever. You just can't hit it.

Obvioulsy this is a small sample size. And more often than not, he can still get guys out with a 'slow' 97 mph fastball and what may soon be argued to be the best change and curve in the game. But he's still going to have to locate better if he wants to be the best pitcher in the league.

I stick by my claim that Strasburg was not worth drafting preseason in a 12-team mixed league. I saw him go for $10 in a 10-team league. Certainly, he's got the stuff. But his time will be limited this year, and there are lots of good pitchers out there. As a comparison, I was able to get Shaun Marcum, Francisco Liriano and Phil Hughes for $1 preseason. I grabbed Clayton Kershaw, Yovanni Gallardo, Josh Johnson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Adam Wainwright, Matt Garza for between $8 and $16 (and many of them in a single league). So $10 on Strasburg in a non-keeper situation is a bit much. It's almost certain he'll be helpful for whoever has him. But we have to remember the opportunity cost of that roster slot as well.

Cynicism over. This guy is ridiculous.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Marking Your Graphics

Over at The Book Blog, Tango has a post about standardizing Pitch F/X graphs to be catcher/batter/umpire view. While I don't think this should necessarily be the case for all Pitch F/X graphics, it brings up another issue that I've had with some graphics that I see online: they're often not marked with labels or legends.

There are some fantastic looking graphics that sabermetricians do at places like Beyond the Boxscore, Fangraphs, etc. Graphics are an important part of sharing your research, especially with a more general audience. Unfortunately, I've read some articles where the graphs aren't explained fully, despite looking like they could be extremely useful. The first lesson you learn in a multivariate statistics class is to ensure your graphs are readable and your audience understands what they are looking at. Otherwise, what's the point?

If you're using Excel, the right graph does this automatically. If you're using a more advanced program like R, Stata, GAUSS, MATLAB, etc., just Google 'adding legend in R', and you'll find great resources for improving your graphics. The website Stack Overflow is one of the best places to find this type of information (or, simply the R Cran Network if you're using R).

So anyone writing up articles, please PLEASE explain what the graph is showing me. Include a legend...ALWAYS include a legend. Include a title. Make sure to use color to your advantage. Color can be abused like crazy in graphics, so be sure to use it intelligently (this seems to be less of a problem, as I've seen many people with much more graphical capability than I at many sites). Even if at your site you've used this graphic before, make sure to include a legend and a title. If you don't want to explain what it's telling us again, that's fine...just link the article where you do. But ALWAYS mark the graph in every post you put up.

But as long as everyone agrees to tell their audience what they're showing us, and mark things accordingly, I don't see a problem. Different formats are appropriate for different problems, so standardizing the view may be a bit stringent.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Trading for Speed in H2H Fantasy Leagues

As a followup to my last article at FBJ, I took a look at the distributions of weekly totals for Stolen Bases to gauge win expectancies in the SB category in H2H fantasy baseball formats. The study is again pretty simple, as I just subtract one hypothetical player and add another to each team in one of my more competitive public ESPN 10-team Roto leagues. Turns out Matt Kemp was more valuable than Adrian Gonzalez: not much of a surprise. Right now, it's tough to extrapolate values beyond players that have equal ability in categories outside HR and SB, given that other things come with HR (RBI, R, some AVG). I'm hoping to get to the next few categories in my next post and be able to give some sort of valuation story for H2H, and how that differs from Roto valuations. It may be that our Roto values are perfectly fine for evaluating players for H2H. I'm not really sure, but I don't know of anywhere that's specifically looked at how category variance really plays a role in Head-to-Head league outcomes and players.

Marlins Once Again Prove They Are The Thriftiest Team in MLB

Apparently the Florida Marlins found themselves a new marketing opportunity: selling replica tickets of unsold seats at the Roy Halladay perfect game. Leave it to the Marlins to make some extra dough off another team's success. I think it's a great idea, but I feel bad for the people that were actually there. If there really is a significant market for these things, and I had attended the game, I'd probably be one that wants to sell the ticket ($100, SURE take it). I don't know what they'll actually sell for on the open market (for example, on eBay), but the fact that the Marlins are also selling them will almost certainly bring down the price that fans could fetch for them when selling to collectors. The tickets are being sold for face value, I think, with front row seats going for more than bleacher ones. I would actually LOVE to get my hands on that sales data, because (as Tango notes), I'm not sure what getting a front row ticket has above a bleacher ticket when you're not actually attending the game...unless maybe you enjoy telling fake stories to your friends.

It's certainly a good move on the Marlins part to seize yet another way to make some profit. They can't sell the tickets to actually see their games, but why not find another way to sell them. You never know when someone will be throwing a perfect game. It's not like Barry Bonds's 756th Home Run or Cal Ripken, Jr.'s 2131st consecutive game. There's demand for collectibles, and the teams in MLB should take every advantage of it that they can (but, of course, make sure to heed the lesson learned by the baseball card industry in recent years).

Hat Tip: The Book Blog