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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Physics professor Len Mlodinow spoke to baseball’s GMs on Friday. | MLB.com: News

“Luck is the residue of design.”

All of them, including Alderson, were in the room at the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort when Dr. Mlodinow told them on Friday that he uses physics and statistics to prove that there really is a lot of luck involved in streaks and success in baseball.

“Hard work and talent is what brings you success,” Mlodinow said he told the group. “They are two big components of success, but also luck is a big component of success. Players have the talent but are subject to the random fluctuations that happen. You look at a player who’s on a hot streak and think that he’s seeing the ball better or concentrating better, but a large component of that is randomness.”

EDIT: Link fixed.

Jim Furtado Posted: November 11, 2012 at 09:40 AM | 20 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: sabermetrics

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   1. DJS, the Digital Dandy Posted: November 11, 2012 at 11:08 AM (#4300013)
Link doesn't work with me.

Though it's a bit disturbing that GMs would need to go to a seminar to find this out. Wouldn't you be a bit disturbed if the doctors at your local hospital had to go to a seminar discussing bloodletting vs. antibiotics?
   2. Biff, highly-regarded young guy Posted: November 11, 2012 at 11:53 AM (#4300032)
Though it's a bit disturbing that GMs would need to go to a seminar to find this out. Wouldn't you be a bit disturbed if the doctors at your local hospital had to go to a seminar discussing bloodletting vs. antibiotics?

A lot of people on this site believe in riding the hot hand as well.
   3. Leroy Kincaid Posted: November 11, 2012 at 12:38 PM (#4300053)
I enjoyed "The Drunkard's Walk".
   4. Bob Tufts Posted: November 11, 2012 at 12:50 PM (#4300060)
My director of baseball operations holds a Ph.D. from Cal Berkley


"Cal Berkley"? Really, Barry Bloom?
   5. Swedish Chef Posted: November 11, 2012 at 01:49 PM (#4300089)
Though it's a bit disturbing that GMs would need to go to a seminar to find this out. Wouldn't you be a bit disturbed if the doctors at your local hospital had to go to a seminar discussing bloodletting vs. antibiotics?

Oh, please. It's a popular talk. You put familiar things in there to moor the novelties to.

The only disturbing thing about it is how unthinking and trite the snark reflex can be around here.
   6. SoSH U at work Posted: November 11, 2012 at 01:57 PM (#4300094)
You look at a player who’s on a hot streak and think that he’s seeing the ball better or concentrating better, but a large component of that is randomness.”


If the player was indeed seeing the ball better or concentrating better (or some other miniscule and temporary change in approach/ability), would that reveal itself as anything other than randomness/luck?

   7. Walt Davis Posted: November 11, 2012 at 03:47 PM (#4300142)
But being a tenured professor at CalTech is all me baby!

You look at a player who’s on a hot streak and think that he’s seeing the ball better or concentrating better, but a large component of that is randomness.

Not to mention that just by observing the experiment you are influencing it!

   8. Tripon Posted: November 11, 2012 at 03:51 PM (#4300146)
Sometimes what seems the most obvious thing needs to be spoken out loud. If only because its not obvious to others.
   9. bobm Posted: November 11, 2012 at 04:09 PM (#4300159)
[4] If only that were the oddest part if the article.

FTFA:

Mlodinow writes about how those theories apply to baseball and other sports in his book, entitled, "The Drunkard's Walk," which was published in 2008.

"When we look at extraordinary accomplishments in sports -- or elsewhere -- we should keep in mind that extraordinary events can happen without extraordinary causes," he wrote. "Random events often look like non-random events, and in interpreting human affairs we must take care not to confuse the two."

To be certain, this is only one point of view...
   10. rfloh Posted: November 11, 2012 at 04:13 PM (#4300163)
"Hard work and talent is what brings you success,” Mlodinow said he told the group. “They are two big components of success, but also luck is a big component of success. Players have the talent but are subject to the random fluctuations that happen. You look at a player who’s on a hot streak and think that he’s seeing the ball better or concentrating better, but a large component of that is randomness.”"

You look at a player's stats, and you think that is all a random fluke, but a component of that IS sometimes better concentration (maybe because he isn't being bothered by little injury niggles, or maybe he no longer is worrying about something off the field, or maybe something as simple as basic as he is going clubbing less, and is getting enough sleep). Biological fluctuations certainly have a random / not understood element. That doesn't mean however that those biological fluctuations have no effect on sporting performance. Similarly psychological. That an athlete cannot sustain that peak (or low point) in performance, does not meant that it is (largely) random.

Most people who try to approach sports training in a (somewhat) systematic manner, agree that you can influence variations in physical performance by varying the intensity, frequency, duration, and volume of loading. The disagreement is in how easy / difficult it is to control that variation, especially in sports like baseball, or soccer, that run over an extended part of the year (ie you can't have the athlete peak for one month, then take it easy / easier the next month, the way you can in some Olympic sports)

TL:DR: the physicist should talk to some (sports) physiologists.
   11. Enrico Pallazzo Posted: November 11, 2012 at 04:14 PM (#4300164)
Not to mention that just by observing the experiment you are influencing it!

It`s true, when players take BP alone with a pitching machine and no one watching, the line drives tend to form an interference pattern down the lines and across the outfield gaps. However, when scouts and fans are present, the liners tend to scatter evenly across the outfield, with a predictable percentage falling into the gloves of the defenders.
   12. smileyy Posted: November 11, 2012 at 04:46 PM (#4300190)
I'll just give a coke to [10] instead of doing a moderate amount of typing.

Edit: And a chuckle to [11].
   13. The_Ex Posted: November 11, 2012 at 05:00 PM (#4300202)
If it wasn't for Mlodinow and his theories PECOTA would be perfect.
   14. Walt Davis Posted: November 11, 2012 at 09:02 PM (#4300307)
If it wasn't for Mlodinow and his theories PECOTA would be perfect.

Theories influencing reality!

Given his profession and position, I'm sure he knows of and agrees with all of our nitpicks ... but do you really want to get into a philosophical debate between "random" and "unpredictable" with GMs. In addition to that issue, there's the fact that the effect sizes in baseball are pretty darn small.
   15. depletion Posted: November 12, 2012 at 08:11 AM (#4300452)
You look at a player who’s on a hot streak and think that he’s seeing the ball better or concentrating better, but a large component of that is randomness.”


If the player was indeed seeing the ball better or concentrating better (or some other miniscule and temporary change in approach/ability), would that reveal itself as anything other than randomness/luck?

Indeed. Reading the Gene Tenace 1972 WS article posted here a few weeks ago, one realizes some streaks are due to a heightened physical state.
   16. Tippecanoe Posted: November 12, 2012 at 08:25 AM (#4300457)
I still remember when my 1983 George Brett Strat-o-matic card had three consecutive two-homer games as part of an 8-homer in 6-game stretch. Boy, was he seeing the ball well. We'd have won the pennant that year if Lou Whitaker's card hadn't been so incredibly clutch.
   17. DiPoto Cabengo Posted: November 12, 2012 at 12:07 PM (#4300581)
Next thing you know, he'll be telling us there is no God.
   18. Greg Pope Posted: November 12, 2012 at 12:46 PM (#4300625)
I didn't RTFA, but why would this be the domain of a physicist as opposed to a mathematician? I get the overlap and all, but still...
   19. Voros McCracken of Pinkus Posted: November 12, 2012 at 02:43 PM (#4300724)
I've been down this road before, but there is a very good argument to be made that there is no such thing as random chance. Probability theory is not the theory of random chance, but rather our own attempt to model uncertainty. It's all about what we know and don't know about the likelihood of a particular event occurring.

There is no doubt that there's no way in hell a hitter has the same chance for a hit every time up, there's a bunch of other variables that could affect that up or down. It's just that a model that assumes that he does differs so little from what the observed results are, it leads to people claiming the absence of hot streaks, or clutch hitting or whatever. I think it's far more accurate to say that these things may exist but are difficult to impossible to detect using statistical samples the size of those most people use to try and identify them.
   20. Greg Pope Posted: November 12, 2012 at 04:01 PM (#4300793)
I've been down this road before, but there is a very good argument to be made that there is no such thing as random chance. Probability theory is not the theory of random chance, but rather our own attempt to model uncertainty. It's all about what we know and don't know about the likelihood of a particular event occurring.

Well, sure, setting aside quantum for a moment, if we knew everything about the trajectory of a tossed die, starting position, velocity, air resistance down to the air currents, landing surface properties, etc. then we could predict what the roll would be. This is analagous to knowing everything about a player's physical condition and other things. Although the player's mind still comes into play. Does anyone disagree with that?

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