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Monday, March 11, 2013

Tracy: Which sport is the most immune to Moneyball?

It ain’t baseball.  It’s probably soccer.

Each year, as ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz has noted, more and more people are coming to Sloan. That’s literally true, but could be said figuratively of sports analytics in general. The days are long gone when seemingly unremarkable players could be signed on the cheap by the few teams smart enough to understand the value of, say, a high on-base percentage. “You used to know how other teams operated,” complained stats-friendly Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban at the opening panel. “Now you have to reverse-engineer what they did to see how they do it.”

Or, as Nate Silver put it on the same panel, “There’s not the low-hanging fruit anymore of having some teams that are totally stupid.”

Over the course of the two-day conference, I asked many people which sport—out of the four major U.S. team sports (baseball, basketball, football, hockey) and soccer—is least amenable to an advanced analytical interpretation, where little is to be gained by looking at the game from a new, maverick angle. In short: Which sport can’t be Moneyball-ed?

Or maybe it’s baseball, based on the way Tracy phrased his question:

But Albert Larcada, an ESPN analytics specialist, contended that baseball was in fact the least amenable to analytics—as of now, that is. “In soccer, no one’s doing it,” he told me following the “Soccer Analytics” panel (on which he appeared), “so if someone wanted to spend $100,000 on a guy, they’d make a dent. In baseball, all 30 teams are doing it—there’s no dent.”

The whole “new market inefficiency” thing became a joke because market inefficiencies as big as the one Moneyball exploited are relatively rare.  Now if everyone knows about OBP, the only way to win is to be better (and luckier) at doing the things that most everyone else is also doing.

Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: March 11, 2013 at 08:30 AM | 99 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: basketball, football, hockey, moneyball, sabermetrics, sloan, soccer

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   1. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: March 11, 2013 at 09:01 AM (#4386102)
it seems that advances in video is making basketball analysis incredibly interesting. one would think that approach could also be applied to soccer and hockey.

also, my understanding is that hockey is regarded as the most random of the major sports in terms of outcomes. is that still accurate?
   2. zack Posted: March 11, 2013 at 09:04 AM (#4386106)
also, my understanding is that hockey is regarded as the most random of the major sports in terms of outcomes. is that still accurate?


Yes, (an no) because it (probably) has the greatest parity and also the inherent nature of the game makes it just short of baseball in terms of randomness. Baseball is more random on a game-by-game basis.

Hockey probably has the most room to grow from a management perspective, though, since the management landscape is still made up primarily of Canadian good old boys. The first European GM was just hired in the last month.
   3. Jose Is The Most Absurd Thing on the Site Posted: March 11, 2013 at 09:12 AM (#4386112)
I think the more moving pieces you have the more difficult advanced metrics are to come about so I'd say soccer and hockey. Of course both sports have advanced metrics and there is some great work being done in both so it's not impossible.

I think tactics and team wide concepts are where low hanging fruit may exist in those sports.
   4. Bitter Mouse Posted: March 11, 2013 at 09:18 AM (#4386118)
Hockey and Football are the hardest (I am not sure which is harder. will think about it). Basketball is easier than hockey because the games are similar, but there is much more scoring (duh) which evens out the randomness. Baseball is the easiest because it is much more static and measurable than the others.
   5. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: March 11, 2013 at 09:24 AM (#4386126)
zack

the study i remember had hockey burying the needle in terms of game to game randomness. the other sports were not close. i will hunt the google and see if i can find it
   6. Voros McCracken of Pinkus Posted: March 11, 2013 at 09:25 AM (#4386128)
Scuba diving.
   7. zonk Posted: March 11, 2013 at 09:29 AM (#4386133)
Competitive Murray Chass in a Fish Barrel Snarking?
   8. JE (Jason) Posted: March 11, 2013 at 09:39 AM (#4386140)
In baseball, all 30 teams are doing it—there’s no dent.

Somewhere in Florida Ruben Amaro Jr. is LOL-ing.
   9. Eric Ferguson Posted: March 11, 2013 at 09:43 AM (#4386146)
Pro wrestling (although Barry Horowitz was the living embodiment of replacement level).
   10. mitchiapet Posted: March 11, 2013 at 09:44 AM (#4386148)
STATS, INC owns the SportVu system that is generating a lot of that basketball data, and I know they are trying to get the system installed by NFL teams and soccer clubs. I personally think that we might need some new techniques to have really good analytics with hockey, basketball, and soccer. Those sports really require analysis in 4 dimensions.
   11. Jack Carter, calling Beleaguered Castle Posted: March 11, 2013 at 10:05 AM (#4386184)
The idea that there aren't still some pretty stupid teams in baseball seems naive. There's also a ton of room for very, very profitable research, IF you can find the answers, such as identifying the likely collapse indicators for 30-32 year old players...
   12. Der-K and the statistical werewolves. Posted: March 11, 2013 at 10:08 AM (#4386187)
Which sport is the most immune to Moneyball?

I think Interpol has demonstrated pretty conclusively that it ain't soccer.
   13. Russ Posted: March 11, 2013 at 10:17 AM (#4386194)
The real advantage of baseball is that, taking fielding out of the equation, you're talking about one-on-one matchups. Without interaction from the other players, it's much easier to isolate an individual player's contribution. I think that's why basketball is the second most advanced of the sports... even though there is some interaction between players, especially in today's NBA, there's still a lot of isolation you can do on an individual player's performance. Hockey is much tougher because very little happens in isolation and players are actually on the ice for no more than 20-25 minutes a game (much of it spent doing very low event probability actions). Football seems like it would be the toughest because you have 11 guys on each side, most of which are contributing to the play, but away from the ball. How do you measure the effect of a receiver's blocking on a running game? Does it depend on the quality of their offensive line? Even measuring the contribution of the running back relative to his line is complex. And there are so few actually plays run in football (about 60-70 per team), it seems very difficult to sort out who is responsible for what in any given game.

   14. You Know Nothing JT Snow (YR) Posted: March 11, 2013 at 10:17 AM (#4386195)
Statistical analysis has close to no value in boxing.
   15. Bourbon Samurai Posted: March 11, 2013 at 10:20 AM (#4386196)
Mixed martial arts is doing some things in trying to develop statistics, but they have a lot of obstacles- all "significant strikes" are not created equal.
   16. TomH Posted: March 11, 2013 at 10:21 AM (#4386197)
I don't pretend to be an expert at any ML sport besides baseball. BUT.....

It seems obvious to me that MLB shoud have been the LEAST likely to need "Moneyballing". It's far MORE an individual sport than the others. It's far more OBVIOUS what batters are worth, becusse they largely don't interact with teammmates. OTOH, for EVERY other sport it should be much MORE challenging to deconstruct individual player values. How do we know how much offensive linemen contribute to the running game? How do we value free safeties? What do we measure in hockey besides goals and assists and goals/shots allowed and PM? How do you best quanitfy defensive ability on the hardcourt? I doubt there has been 1/10th of the ground uncovered in these areas versus the efort put in on beter run estimaors.

And of course, if I cared a whit about hockey, I wold do something about it...
   17. Gamingboy Posted: March 11, 2013 at 10:23 AM (#4386198)
Statistical analysis has close to no value in boxing.


Just what I was thinking. I mean, there are strategies, but no real statistics that can be measured impartially.
   18. zack Posted: March 11, 2013 at 10:25 AM (#4386200)
I think Interpol has demonstrated pretty conclusively that it ain't soccer.

I laughed, but that's also true I think. If you take moneyball, the strategy, from Moneyball, the subtitle: "The Art of Winning and Unfair Game", then soccer is by far the least "moneyballable". The best you could hope for is a few year run to a European place before your team is ripped apart. Not to say that there aren't teams that punch above their weight consistently, but success is a far more relative term in that context.
   19. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: March 11, 2013 at 10:25 AM (#4386201)

I think Interpol has demonstrated pretty conclusively that it ain't soccer.


Well played.


The idea that there aren't still some pretty stupid teams in baseball seems naive. There's also a ton of room for very, very profitable research, IF you can find the answers, such as identifying the likely collapse indicators for 30-32 year old players...


I also think the notion that we've come to the end for "moneyball" in baseball is naive. Pitching staff usage is still the same as it was in the late 80s. Roster compositions are still as they were 20 years ago. You still see speedsters hitting at the top of lineups and sluggers hitting cleanup. We don't fully know the effects a manager has on a club. I don't think we know everything about the impact of defense and baserunning quite yet. The returns are diminishing, but there are still edges to be had in baseball.
   20. You Know Nothing JT Snow (YR) Posted: March 11, 2013 at 10:35 AM (#4386206)
Mixed martial arts is doing some things in trying to develop statistics, but they have a lot of obstacles- all "significant strikes" are not created equal.


Like boxing, the real value comes from reviewing video footage. Quantification adds nothing. If I know a guy likes to lead with a left hook, step in, and fire a right uppercut, knowing he does this after 71% of his lead left hooks doesn't provide any tangible value.
   21. Spectral Posted: March 11, 2013 at 10:44 AM (#4386214)
I'd think soccer's going to be the hardest because of how subjective what qualifies as a "scoring chance" is going to be. I suppose you could quantify who wins midfield battles, who's good at controlling passes, and other useful things though. It's just that the punch line is soccer tends to be more artistry and luck than easily statistically quantifiable events.

Football's also going to be hard to quantify because it's not always clear whose responsibility is what on a play, even with video to slow things down and watch them multiple times. How do you know if the receiver missed the route or if the QB threw to the wrong spot? How do you know if the running back was supposed to stay in and pick up the blitzer? How do you know which DB had responsibility for a certain spot in a complex zone scheme? None of these things are clear at all on quite a few plays, without knowing what the scheme was.

Hockey's basically basketball with less scoring and more randomness, for analytic purposes.
   22. andrewberg Posted: March 11, 2013 at 10:45 AM (#4386215)
Pro wrestling (although Barry Horowitz was the living embodiment of replacement level).


Don't tell Bodydonna Skip.
   23. Dale Sams Posted: March 11, 2013 at 11:16 AM (#4386230)
We're not too far removed from an England manager who capped a player he'd never seen, and another who favored psychics. I've seen no-shooting goons favored over 'fox-in-the-boxes' and guys who could skin players but couldn't pass for #### favored over those who could.

I should not be surprised at all to find Annie Savoy's bit about 'fallen fruit no one sees' to be much more applicable to soccer than baseball. It's not hard to imagine soccer players with amazing vision in taking passing lanes passed over cause they were shite at playing keepy-uppy.

edit: Also, home and away results are so dramatic, that they're included in tournament rules. I'm not sure what you can do to get players to ignore that (or refs) but it would be a handy ability.
   24. Fancy Pants Handles lap changes with class Posted: March 11, 2013 at 11:30 AM (#4386237)
We're not too far removed from an England manager who capped a player he'd never seen, and another who favored psychics.

And neither of those would rank in the top 20 for 'crazy #### Raymond Domenech did while manager of France'.
   25. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: March 11, 2013 at 11:35 AM (#4386240)
Like boxing, the real value comes from reviewing video footage. Quantification adds nothing. If I know a guy likes to lead with a left hook, step in, and fire a right uppercut, knowing he does this after 71% of his lead left hooks doesn't provide any tangible value.


If nothing else, that kind of stuff is interesting for outside observers, so it's not totally worthless.

I do agree that sports with discrete individual actions, like boxing and MMA, are less likely to have exploitable inefficiencies than team sports.
   26. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: March 11, 2013 at 11:37 AM (#4386242)
We're not too far removed from an England manager who capped a player he'd never seen...


He shot him? Jesus. What provoked it? Did he die?
   27. Mike Emeigh Posted: March 11, 2013 at 11:44 AM (#4386246)
Pitching staff usage is still the same as it was in the late 80s.


Demonstrably untrue. Starting pitcher usage, and relief pitcher usage beyond the closer, continued to evolve until the late 90s.

-- MWE
   28. Swedish Chef Posted: March 11, 2013 at 11:46 AM (#4386247)
I should not be surprised at all to find Annie Savoy's bit about 'fallen fruit no one sees' to be much more applicable to soccer than baseball. It's not hard to imagine soccer players with amazing vision in taking passing lanes passed over cause they were shite at playing keepy-uppy.

But in soccer they are going to get a chance somewhere. There are hundreds of pro teams looking for talent. In baseball teams keep guys they don't believe in around, it costs peanuts to keep them in the minor leagues. It's way easier to wither on the wine in baseball, a soccer player may have to go to Sweden*, but he will get to play competitive games somewhere.

*) And a small soccer league is nothing like a baseball minor league. A player is free to negotiate his own terms.
   29. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: March 11, 2013 at 11:47 AM (#4386248)
Mike Emeigh is correct. I think we've gone from a couple hundred >130-pitch starts a year 20 years ago to ten.
   30. Spectral Posted: March 11, 2013 at 11:48 AM (#4386249)
Like boxing, the real value comes from reviewing video footage. Quantification adds nothing. If I know a guy likes to lead with a left hook, step in, and fire a right uppercut, knowing he does this after 71% of his lead left hooks doesn't provide any tangible value.


I disagree; if you could give me numbers on not only how often my opponent does something, but how effective he is with it, I think it makes me more able to fight him. Maybe this is because I don't know jack about boxing, but we do this sort of quantification in basketball (Player X goes to his left Y% of the time and shoots Z% going that way, so shade him that direction). Maybe it's different because a boxing match ends if you guess wrong or your opponent bucks their tendency, as where a basketball player just gets a single bucket.

Still, quantifying boxing tendencies seems useful to me.
   31. Swedish Chef Posted: March 11, 2013 at 12:12 PM (#4386264)
I disagree; if you could give me numbers on not only how often my opponent does something, but how effective he is with it,

The boxing analysts should use Hit Points as the statistic to watch.
   32. Greg Pope thinks the Cubs are reeking havoc Posted: March 11, 2013 at 12:17 PM (#4386268)
Football's also going to be hard to quantify because it's not always clear whose responsibility is what on a play, even with video to slow things down and watch them multiple times. How do you know if the receiver missed the route or if the QB threw to the wrong spot? How do you know if the running back was supposed to stay in and pick up the blitzer? How do you know which DB had responsibility for a certain spot in a complex zone scheme? None of these things are clear at all on quite a few plays, without knowing what the scheme was.


OK, but your last phrase there is the key. Baseball analysis really blossomed with people outside the game. The numbers are mostly available to everyone, so outsiders could really go at it. In football, there may be the same opportunities, but they will likely only be available to the insiders. And more than that, they will end up being unique to and individual team, and for that matter, they may only be valid under the current coaching scheme. So you bring in a new coach, throw out all of your analysis.

Even the insiders may not be able to analyze players on other teams properly. Although maybe you could find a guy who would work well in your scheme but is being underused by his own team.
   33. Dale Sams Posted: March 11, 2013 at 12:18 PM (#4386270)
It's way easier to wither on the wine in baseball, a soccer player may have to go to Sweden*,


Well that's true...if he can overcome any bias attributed to his home country.

and there's another inefficiency. How many really talented Americans fall to the wayside cause they'd rather make 100K a year than 250 Euros a week? And...

Serious question: DO the major soccer powers even have scouts in the US going around to see the top high school players?
   34. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 11, 2013 at 12:20 PM (#4386275)
OK, but your last phrase there is the key. Baseball analysis really blossomed with people outside the game. The numbers are mostly available to everyone, so outsiders could really go at it. In football, there may be the same opportunities, but they will likely only be available to the insiders.

This is a great point. For some bizarre reason, the NFL refuses to release or sell its overhead camera shots that show all 22 players at once.
   35. Gamingboy Posted: March 11, 2013 at 12:20 PM (#4386277)
...What about bowling?
   36. Der-K and the statistical werewolves. Posted: March 11, 2013 at 12:23 PM (#4386279)
Baseball analysis really blossomed with people outside the game. The numbers are mostly available to everyone, so outsiders could really go at it. In football, there may be the same opportunities, but they will likely only be available to the insiders.

Dean Oliver was talking about this on HUAL recently (Oliver has been called by some the Bill James of basketball, though the comp is unfair to both). IIRC, he estimated (guestimated?) that this retarded growth in metrics by 30% or so. The next major frontier in hoops is the SportVU data - it's going to be interesting to see how teams (and the league) handle working with that data (I linked to on an article from the VORP blog last night that touched on that task ... data management becomes more relatively more important compared to manipulating end products).
   37. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 11, 2013 at 12:25 PM (#4386280)
...What about bowling?

What would be the advantage? It would have to be a player training tool, because there are no teams trying to acquire talent.

Same for boxing, tenni,s and golf. When it's just individuals playing for themselves, there's no one with an economic interest in investing in analytics.

Except maybe gamblers, and that work won't be made public.
   38. Dale Sams Posted: March 11, 2013 at 12:27 PM (#4386284)
Here's an analytical basketball question...is 'hot hand' real and how much should it affect the game plan?
   39. Voros McCracken of Pinkus Posted: March 11, 2013 at 12:31 PM (#4386287)
Serious question: DO the major soccer powers even have scouts in the US going around to see the top high school players?

Yep, only they aren't watching High School soccer usually. Club soccer for the most part.

The bigger problem is that as a country we're not very good at the sport, and we're even worse at coaching it. And so ultimately the European scouts don't come away with much. There's also a protectionist rule in place that forbids teams from signing foreign players until their 18th birthday. This rule exists because it's effectively a subsidy to club teams in countries without the big leagues.

But a Junior Flores gets snapped every now and then anyway.
   40. greenback calls it soccer Posted: March 11, 2013 at 12:32 PM (#4386289)
For some bizarre reason, the NFL refuses to release or sell its overhead camera shots that show all 22 players at once.

Baseball has some weird ideas about who gets access to some of the newer data too. I understand SportVision has to get paid, but it's not clear how they benefit when they keep their data secret.

What about bowling?

Maybe the pros don't need it, but I would love to know if there are certain paths that are strike-happy or split-prone.
   41. Randy Jones Posted: March 11, 2013 at 12:45 PM (#4386302)
This is a great point. For some bizarre reason, the NFL refuses to release or sell its overhead camera shots that show all 22 players at once.


They finally changed this. They now offer NFL Game Rewind, which includes the "all 22" video.
   42. SandyRiver Posted: March 11, 2013 at 12:49 PM (#4386310)
Even the insiders may not be able to analyze players on other teams properly. Although maybe you could find a guy who would work well in your scheme but is being underused by his own team.

As a Patriots fan, I've gotten to watch a classic example of this, a nifty return man and backup WR who started only 3 games in 3 yr for the Dolphins, now averaging 112 catches per year for the Pats. (Had 96 catches total for his 'Phins years.) Of course, having Brady throwing you the ball rather than "Dolphins QB" also helps.
   43. Swedish Chef Posted: March 11, 2013 at 12:55 PM (#4386316)
Serious question: DO the major soccer powers even have scouts in the US going around to see the top high school players?

They have extensive enough networks that they know which 16-17 yo Swedish players to invite for trials. I guess they mostly use local guys on a small retainer that research players, and then goes to see them.

Most young players are probably moved by their agents who markets them and gets them trials. Getting an agent isn't a problem for a reasonably good player, they swarm. The problem is finding a not-too-dishonest one.

   44. Der-K and the statistical werewolves. Posted: March 11, 2013 at 01:00 PM (#4386321)
38 - evidence suggests 'no'
I think it's more complicated than that, but there you go.
   45. Spectral Posted: March 11, 2013 at 01:12 PM (#4386329)
Here's an analytical basketball question...is 'hot hand' real and how much should it affect the game plan?


As expressed in #44, I'm under the impression that the basic answer is "no". Players probably can't really go on streaks that are anything particularly out of their expected deviation from their true talent level. That said, players can believe they're on such streaks and decide to shoot more, which makes it sensible to shade a defense in their direction if that behavior is observed.

As an observer and player though, it's hard for me to believe the statistical evidence. I think the lack of apparently "legitimate" streaks might be a result of exactly that sort of defensive adjustment being made. When Lebron James seemed to have gone to an NBA Jam level He's On Fire situation against the Celtics in Game 6 last year, it'd be pretty hard to convince anyone watching that Boston should have just played him normally and he'd "cool down".
   46. Der-K and the statistical werewolves. Posted: March 11, 2013 at 01:29 PM (#4386342)
There's also the issue of process v outcome. I remember a game where I was the hot shooter on my team ... reason was that the guy guarding me kept ignoring that I was lefty with a quick first step. I wasn't hot - I was more open than normal. Also, hot is not the mirror opposite of cold - cold can mean something's wrong, hot usually means something isn't and you're lucky.
There was a recent paper supporting the hot hand hypothesis - but I think that, too, was measuring something else...
   47. cardsfanboy Posted: March 11, 2013 at 01:31 PM (#4386344)
I think football is in a pretty good spot. You probably can't analyze every player, but you can analyze the overall strategy and make some significant changes if you have the guts. There have been studies on the validity of the punt strategy, and some coaches have seen interested in changing that approach, but just don't have the guts in the end. When a team decides that playing for four downs instead of three, it's going to have a ripple effect throughout the league. Of course the first team to do that, is going to have to have a strong defense to get away with it.

Football is still pretty far from being over run with statistical analysis, that it's in it's infant stage. At this point in time, any advances you get from analytics will be on the coaching side, and not having to do as much with the individual players.

...What about bowling?


Videotape is probably the best tool for improving your bowling, Although for an amateur, having stats on spare pick percentage and types could be useful to improving your game. You might think you make a lot of a particular spare, and then you find out that you are only 70% or so on that spare, and you might concentrate more. I know that there are are few single pin spares that I used to be cocky on, because they were so easy, then I started to pay attention, and my lack of effort on them had led to a lower than expected percentage of picks.

Bowling has the same problem as any other sport though, if you just go by your perception of how you are doing, you might fall into traps. Bowling would be among the easiest sports to quantify.
   48. depletion Posted: March 11, 2013 at 01:46 PM (#4386359)
For football, and perhaps hockey, there should be an opportunity to use slo-mo video and calculate a distribution of "time to react" and "time to get from X to Y" in a fashion that might be useful. I don't doubt that the coaches already know which players are "quick", that is, have a low reaction time, but how does the distribution of those times change depending on variables such as: how many plays has he executed today, day/night game, what player opposes him?
Really baseball should be quantifying these measures as well. A lot of people here recognize fielding metrics as needing work.
   49. Fancy Pants Handles lap changes with class Posted: March 11, 2013 at 02:14 PM (#4386388)
it'd be pretty hard to convince anyone watching that Boston should have just played him normally and he'd "cool down".

The correct answer, as to when you should play LeBron 'normally', is 'never'.
   50. jacksone (AKA It's OK...) Posted: March 11, 2013 at 02:18 PM (#4386391)

As expressed in #44, I'm under the impression that the basic answer is "no". Players probably can't really go on streaks that are anything particularly out of their expected deviation from their true talent level. That said, players can believe they're on such streaks and decide to shoot more, which makes it sensible to shade a defense in their direction if that behavior is observed.


I believe the study done found that after a certain number of makes players overestimated their abilities and took worse shots, meaning having a hot hand actually hurts at some point.

As an aside, Carmelo Anthony has said he does this - he calls them 'heat checks'. He takes a shot he normally wouldn't, a few feet behind the three point arc early in the shot clock maybe, just to see how much he is feeling it. Hard to argue with him too much though, when he is on he is pretty unstoppable.
   51. Copronymus Posted: March 11, 2013 at 02:52 PM (#4386411)
I think hockey might be the hardest because it has all of the complex interactions and inequalities of opportunity that are present in basketball and soccer and then adds frequent full-team substitutions, so that it can be very hard to figure out what a specific player's contribution is. Also, I think the quality of data you get is lower in the NHL than it tends to be in other leagues. NHL scorers are, to put it lightly, inconsistent, even with really basic metrics like whether a shot has happened.
   52. Spectral Posted: March 11, 2013 at 02:56 PM (#4386413)
Yeah, I think basketball players probably more or less intuitively arrive at something pretty close to optimal shooting patterns, most of the time. A couple people have made good points about things that affect shot selection and player perceptions, and I think those are basically right; these sorts of factors start to really bring into question the usefulness of trying to statistically quantify and adjust for streakiness.

The biggest thing that analytics has done in basketball is made much more clear what constitutes a good shot. In particular, the efficiency of corner threes and getting to the basket almost can't be overstated. Meanwhile, other shots that look pretty good to the naked eye, like 6 foot hook shots, are actually pretty bad percentage plays, and a defense should be happy if they can get their opponent to rely on them.

One thing that analytics have done for me is changed how I watch basketball. Even though I can't question the aesthetics of a pretty fallaway jumper from Kobe or Carmelo, I still cringe when they take those shots while there's time on the shot clock. Those are just plain bad shots, except at the very edges of game theory.
   53. Avoid running at all times.-S. Paige Posted: March 11, 2013 at 03:37 PM (#4386452)
Meanwhile, other shots that look pretty good to the naked eye, like 6 foot hook shots, are actually pretty bad percentage plays, and a defense should be happy if they can get their opponent to rely on them.


Yeah, I heard that recently in a Bill Simmons podcast with Zach Lowe (who is really good). He was thinking out loud that one of the reasons why Melo works better at the 4 is his being undersized for the position actually might incentivize that kind of shot. Pretty interesting.

The corner 3 thing is pretty interesting as well if only because now that everybody basically knows, I wonder if defenses will change to defend that possibility more and how that will in turn affect the corner 3 in the long run.
   54. Der-K and the statistical werewolves. Posted: March 11, 2013 at 03:42 PM (#4386463)
Spectral, your 2nd paragraphs somewhat contradicts your first (which is not to say that I disagree with either - there's a reason Josh Smith, for example, is held up for derision). Basketball players, imo, come close to optimizing shot selection based on the prevailing wisdom of what is or is not a good shot. That wisdom is changing...

I wonder if defenses will change to defend that possibility more

They already are...
   55. Athletic Supporter can feel the slow rot Posted: March 11, 2013 at 04:10 PM (#4386490)
Football is still in the dark ages. Forget punting -- let me know the next time a team goes for 2 after being down 14 late and then scoring a TD. It will be the first (well, first in recent memory anyway). Break-even point is 38%, not to mention that at least for now you'll have the element of moderate surprise.
   56. Dale Sams Posted: March 11, 2013 at 04:36 PM (#4386510)
I still cringe when they take those shots while there's time on the shot clock. Those are just plain bad shots, except at the very edges of game theory


How about some rebound study? Slowing up just a bit to let your offense get in position AND getting your players to crash the boards instead of giving up as I see sometimes.
   57. Spectral Posted: March 11, 2013 at 04:37 PM (#4386511)
Spectral, your 2nd paragraphs somewhat contradicts your first


Hmmm... I guess I can see how it reads that way. Let me clarify real quick - when I say that they come close to optimizing shot selection, I don't mean that they're as good at as they are with fully optimized coaching and strategy gamed out, I mean that they're probably only about 10% below optimal by just doing what comes naturally. The thing is, being 10% below optimal is enough to make you lose most games, it's the few points here and there that decide who's good and who's not.

I guess the problem is the imprecision of "comes close to". I mean that they're close in the sense that they're not taking awful shots very often, not that there's not big gains to be had in marginal wins by taking better shots.

How about some rebound study? Slowing up just a bit to let your offense get in position AND getting your players to crash the boards instead of giving up as I see sometimes.


Is this some of the Kirk Goldsberry work? I think he's shown pretty definitively that some "bad shots" aren't as bad as they seem, if there's rebounders in position.
   58. Walt Davis Posted: March 11, 2013 at 05:11 PM (#4386541)
Sorry if this was covered, in a bit of a hurry ...

There's a difference between "easy to model" and "big payoff." Baseball is easy to model for the reasons folks have mentioned (good stats, mostly batter-pitcher, independence of teammates) but it's difficult to model because the effect sizes are puny. A "20 point" difference in OBP is "huge" but is of course just 2% and is an extra base reached every other week. You need a couple thousand PA before you can start to detect that sort of effect reliably. (You can also think of that as the randomness of baseball outcomes.)

On the other hand, especially in the good ol' pre-parity days, despite football only playing 14-16 games per season, it wasn't that hard to predict which teams were going to do well. Or at least it didn't seem so to me.

Hockey is probably the hardest to model. Dependence, low-scoring and who's on the ice at any given moment is constantly changing (and while the puck is in play). Those stupid blue lines reducing the impact of speed. And my guess is the effect sizes are pretty small. But maybe it all comes down to the goaltender and whether you've got an offensive star.
   59. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: March 11, 2013 at 05:17 PM (#4386544)
Seriously, who was the soccer coach who shot an opposing player? I tried Googling, but I can't find anything about it.
   60. Moeball Posted: March 11, 2013 at 05:33 PM (#4386554)
I'm sure y'all won't be shy about correcting me if I'm missing something here - but it seems to me a big part of the whole "Moneyball" thing was being able to identify talent on the cheap that someone else missed, yes? In the early SABR days especially, there were glaringly easy opportunities to exploit some other team's lack of vision primarily because the other team wasn't even looking in the right direction in the first place to see what was going on. Easy example - very few realized how good a player Joe Morgan was when he was with the Astros because a)his biggest offensive strength was OBA which wasn't valued much at the time and b)he was playing in the Astrodome which wasn't helping his numbers, and people didn't pay much attention to park factors at the time, either. Low-hanging fruit indeed for the Reds.

OK, fast forward to the Billy Beane days in Oakland, and he's trying to identify talent that can help his team that isn't on the radar screen of teams like the Yankees so Oakland can get these players at an affordable price - and the main reason for the market inefficiency is because other teams were almost consciously not looking at the facets of play they should have been looking at (such as OBA).

Now, to my question - isn't there an absolutely HUGE opportunity in football to find information others don't have? Think about which offensive positions get emphasized - quarterback, running back, receiver - these are even referred to as the "skilled" positions, whereas apparently any no-talent schmo can play on the offensive line. Yet the battle at the line of scrimmage has a much larger impact on the outcome of games than anything else. If you have a great offensive line, literally anybody can be your quarterback, running back or receiver and you will put up huge numbers. For evidence of this you need look no further than the early fall portion of the college football season. Every year some Nearly Everyyear Highly Ranked University (NEHRU) gets a non-conference game against Podunk University (PU). Go to the sports books in Vegas and you'll see spreads of 50 points and above the mismatches are so great. Imagine pummeling a team 49-0 and you didn't even cover the spread! At any rate, you will often see second and third string players piling up the yardage for NEHRU just like the starters, because the offfensive line is just destroying the opposing team on every single play. With holes that big to work with, I could score a TD or two! But the press clippings - and the biggest paychecks when you get to the pro level - don't go to the linemen, mainly because we don't yet know of adequate ways to quantify their impact, leaving them largely undervalued. But I'm thinking some person way smarter than me is going to figure out how to do that at some point in the future and it will change the way the game is played and the way the players are paid.

   61. Moeball Posted: March 11, 2013 at 06:00 PM (#4386565)
Another question - as I mentioned above, I think market inefficiencies happen when most people aren't even looking in the right direction in the first place, so they don't see the inefficiency that is there to be exploited. So, on to basketball now - once upon a time, Bill Russell won 5 MVP awards and helped the Celtics win 11 championships. Yet he was only a mediocre offensive performer. In fact, he still jokes about how Auerbach would yell at him when he took shots, as "scorer" was not his role on the team. He was, however, very aggressive on the boards and an absolutely monster shot blocker. He was basically a defensive specialist and he won 5 MVP awards.

Since Russell retired at the end of the 1969 season - has there been a single MVP in the league since then that was a "defensive specialist"? Not that there weren't great defensive players winning the award - Michael Jordan was a great defender, for example - but no one remembers Jordan for his defense, he is remembered for his scoring. I think every MVP since the days of Russell has been a great offensive player, either as a scorer like Jordan or passer like Magic or Nash.

Is the game such that nowadays no defensive player can have such a big impact as Russell did, even without being a great offensive performer? Is it the game that has changed that much? Or is it just that no one focuses on defense that much and that, if someone could properly quantify the impact, an inefficiency could be exploited?

   62. Spectral Posted: March 11, 2013 at 06:01 PM (#4386566)
Now, to my question - isn't there an absolutely HUGE opportunity in football to find information others don't have? Think about which offensive positions get emphasized - quarterback, running back, receiver - these are even referred to as the "skilled" positions, whereas apparently any no-talent schmo can play on the offensive line.


This isn't generally the tenor of discourse with regard to NFL lineman. Left tackles are frequently very high salaried and very high picked. Here's some mock drafts for this year: http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/draft/mock

Notice that everyone's top ten is absolutely loaded with offensive linemen, defensive lineman, and linebackers that are pass rush specialists who will be essentially stand up linemen. There's a very talented corner, a couple reaches at QB (QBs really are so valuable that it's worth reaching), and that's about it in the top ten. A couple people thinking one receiver will go high. No one thinks any running backs are going high, and people have generally concluded that running backs were overvalued and are replaceable, with rare exceptions like CJ Spiller and Adrian Peterson. According to this SI piece, QBs are the highest salaried position, but second is defensive end, third is offensive lineman (not sorted by specific position), and fourth is defensive tackle.

So, yeah, maybe the casual fan isn't aware of the importance of trench play, but it's surely not undervalued by GMs. Also, there is some publicly consumable data that's emerging on line play, particularly at Advanced NFL Stats and Football Outsiders. This is in its infancy, but it's starting.

On Russell, I'm of the unpopular position that he's overrated, historically. He did a lot of things very well, was surely the best defender of his day, one of the one or two best rebounders, and a very good passer; the thing is, if you look at those Celtics teams, they were highly balanced teams that covered up for the fact that their best player was just an above average player offensively. I think it's hard to support the idea that Russell should have ever won an MVP, unless you buy the "best player on the best team" type of thinking. Sure, it's possible that he was otherworldly transcendent defensively in a way that one's been since, but that seems kind of unlikely, right? It's hard to really see him as being different from a better (offensively) version of Tyson Chandler or Ben Wallace.

That said, Tim Duncan's been the best player of last twenty years (if you don't count Lebron, since he has time left) and I think most people would agree that his defense and leadership stick out more than his offense.
   63. DL from MN Posted: March 11, 2013 at 06:03 PM (#4386567)
The offensive/defensive line is also made up mostly of 1 on 1 or 2 on 1 battles. Easy to quantify which side gained/lost in each outcome. It's just really hard to automate the data gathering. You'd have to watch film of every play.
   64. DA Baracus Posted: March 11, 2013 at 06:28 PM (#4386574)
(QBs really are so valuable that it's worth reaching)


Reaching for a QB is a waste. There isn't a top QB in the league that was a reach.

CJ Spiller on the other hand was a reach and a terrible pick by the Bills.
   65. Fancy Pants Handles lap changes with class Posted: March 11, 2013 at 06:54 PM (#4386582)
Seriously, who was the soccer coach who shot an opposing player? I tried Googling, but I can't find anything about it.

Assuming you are really being serious: Traditionally, UK footballers are awarded a cap, i.e. the kind you put on your head, for having made an appearance for their national team. Therefore, players who make an appearance for their national team, are known to have been "capped".
   66. Fancy Pants Handles lap changes with class Posted: March 11, 2013 at 06:57 PM (#4386583)
Reaching for a QB is a waste. There isn't a top QB in the league that was a reach.

That's some serious hindsight analysis going on there. If they ended up being a "top QB", then pretty much by definition they weren't a reach. I bet there were about 31 teams who wish they had thrown a fifth rounder at Tom Brady though.
   67. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: March 11, 2013 at 06:59 PM (#4386585)
Traditionally, UK footballers are awarded a cap, i.e. the kind you put on your head, for having made an appearance for their national team. Therefore, players who make an appearance for their national team, are known to have been "capped".


Thank you - I was not aware of that.
   68. Spectral Posted: March 11, 2013 at 07:00 PM (#4386587)
Reaching for a QB is a waste. There isn't a top QB in the league that was a reach.


This depends how you define "top QB". Eli Manning, Phil Rivers, Joe Flacco, and Cam Newton were all reaches in the sense that they flew up draft boards late because teams needed QBs. On a draft grade basis, none of them were "worth" where they were picked, but they've all been good values in the long run. The very best QBs generally aren't reaches simply because their talent tends to be very obvious.

CJ Spiller on the other hand was a reach and a terrible pick by the Bills.


This can only be true in the sense that running backs are almost never good values. Spiller was the third most valuable back in the league last year and the most efficient on a per touch basis (http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/rb). While I'd personally never take a running back in the first round, that's an organizational philosophy thing, as I think they're fungible. Strictly on his own merits, Spiller's a truly special running back. The Bills miss a lot more than they hit, but they hit that one.
   69. DA Baracus Posted: March 11, 2013 at 07:04 PM (#4386589)
Assuming you are really being serious:


I was going to guess Kevin Keegan.

If they ended up being a "top QB", then pretty much by definition they weren't a reach.


It's not hindsight. None of them were reaches at the time.
   70. DA Baracus Posted: March 11, 2013 at 07:08 PM (#4386591)
This depends how you define "top QB". Eli Manning, Phil Rivers, Joe Flacco, and Cam Newton were all reaches in the sense that they flew up draft boards late because teams needed QBs.


I don't consider Eli Manning, Joe Flacco or Cam Newton a top QB, though Newton could turn out to be. Phillip Rivers was until the past couple of years, he could rebound now that AJ Smith isn't there to do as much harm as good to the rest of the team.

This can only be true in the sense that running backs are almost never good values.


The Bills had no passing game but they took a running back with a top ten pick, then to make matters worse they didn't play him his rookie season and as a backup in his second year. Two picks later was Anthony Davis, who would have helped the Bills more then and now.
   71. Spectral Posted: March 11, 2013 at 07:15 PM (#4386594)
Oops, double post.
   72. JJ1986 Posted: March 11, 2013 at 07:16 PM (#4386596)
I think Matt Ryan was also a bit of a reach. Drafted as high as he was because he was the top QB and not a top 3 overall talent.
   73. Spectral Posted: March 11, 2013 at 07:20 PM (#4386598)
I don't consider Eli Manning, Joe Flacco or Cam Newton a top QB, though Newton could turn out to be. Phillip Rivers was until the past couple of years, he could rebound now that AJ Smith isn't there to do as much harm as good to the rest of the team.


I guess I'm not clear what the point is then; not every team can have a literal "top QB" then if you're defining it as something like the top 5 QBs. You need a QB, you need a pretty good one, and it usually takes a high first rounder to get one. Hell, if the Bills had acted on that basis in the past, we probably wouldn't have to rip them for the Spiller pick. Because of the premium placed on QBs, getting even a top 12 type guy usually requires spending pretty high picks.

The Bills had no passing game but they took a running back with a top ten pick, then to make matters worse they didn't play him his rookie season and as a backup in his second year. Two picks later was Anthony Davis, who would have helped the Bills more then and now.


The Bills are horrible organization in many ways, you'll get no argument from me there. I desired a small trade down and Mike Iupati in that draft, he was the guy I was most sure was going to be an impact lineman. The various ways that they Bills have been brutally stupid with their selections, signings, and usage patterns doesn't really have any relevance on evaluating Spiller's abilities though. He was an awful pick because of the context, I hated it more than just about anyone, but he really is a special running back.
   74. Spectral Posted: March 11, 2013 at 07:20 PM (#4386599)
Wow, I'm having serious double post issues. Sorry.
   75. DA Baracus Posted: March 11, 2013 at 07:46 PM (#4386610)
I think Matt Ryan was also a bit of a reach. Drafted as high as he was because he was the top QB and not a top 3 overall talent.


I disagree, but I'm a bit biased. I really liked him in college and then I've been able to watch him develop. But I also wouldn't call him an elite QB.

I guess I'm not clear what the point is then


That when you reach for a QB in the first round "because it's a QB" you wind up with crappy QBs like Christian Ponder, Jake Locker, Brandon Weeden and Tim Tebow, which only does your team more harm than good because you don't improve and it costs you your job. Of course, not every QB that is drafted high and is universally agreed upon to be a worth the pick turns out to be any good, but the guys in the league who were first round reaches all stink.

not every team can have a literal "top QB" then if you're defining it as something like the top 5 QBs.


Well yeah, that's what makes a player tops at his position. If I wanted to say starting QB I would have said starting QB.
   76. smileyy Posted: March 11, 2013 at 08:00 PM (#4386618)
I think the blurred distinction is that "Top 5 QB" and "QB you can with a Super Bowl with" are overlapping sets.
   77. Walt Davis Posted: March 11, 2013 at 10:14 PM (#4386666)
My guess on Russell -- and it's a guess, if I ever saw him play it would have been at the very end and I'd have been very young -- is that, yes, he was that special as a defensive player given his era. Big guys were slow then. Heck, they were still pretty damn slow when I started paying attention to the NBA in the early-mid 70s. The general talent level in the NBA is light years beyond where it was then and Russell types are much more common. But a big guy with his quickness at a time when the power forward might be a 6'4" white guy ... I can well imagine a defensive dominance that ... well, saying he might dominate like Ruth did offensively is too much, but maybe in the way that Gretzky or Jim Brown dominated offensively. Or the way Walter Johnson dominated when nobody else could K more than 3 per 9. Russell was a very quick man among a group of mostly slow boys is the impression I got handed down to me.

But, yeah, once Oscar was in the league I'd have a hard time believing Russell was really the most valuable or productive.

By the way, for your enjoyment/disgust, the bball-ref ELO ratings:

#27 Kevin Durant
#28 Scottie Pippen
#29 Oscar Robertson
#30 Bill Russell
#31 Dirk Nowitzki
#32 Wilt Chamberlain
#33 Jason Kidd

Edit: Wow! Even more bizarre than I thought ... David Robinson at #3 all-time??
Edit 2: And this just in -- Dominique Wilkins just passed the Big O. That's the first pass of 'Nique's life.
   78. You Know Nothing JT Snow (YR) Posted: March 11, 2013 at 11:37 PM (#4386704)
Like boxing, the real value comes from reviewing video footage. Quantification adds nothing. If I know a guy likes to lead with a left hook, step in, and fire a right uppercut, knowing he does this after 71% of his lead left hooks doesn't provide any tangible value.

I disagree; if you could give me numbers on not only how often my opponent does something, but how effective he is with it, I think it makes me more able to fight him. Maybe this is because I don't know jack about boxing, but we do this sort of quantification in basketball (Player X goes to his left Y% of the time and shoots Z% going that way, so shade him that direction).


Boxers and trainers already glean that sort of information from watching video. Adding any sort of quantification to what they intuitively pick up as part of pre-fight preparation wouldn't be of much, if any value in my estimation. If I know a fighter likes to double-up on his left hook, body-to-head, the number being 50% of the time or 70% of the time doesn't make a difference, since I'd be training to counter it regardless - these tendencies become part of a fighter's established style. Boxers have been dissecting film to pick up on subtle tendencies and tells for 100 years now, I don't think adding any sort of reductive analytical aspect to the study adds any real value.

There may be some potential to a deeper study of the biomechanics of the punch, but even that has largely been broken down effectively over the long history of boxing. Jack Dempsey wrote a book, "Championship Fighting", that is absolutely magnificent in effectively describing the biomechanics of proper punching technique.

Now if by "Moneyball" you mean, instead of a quantitative approach to analyzing talent, ways to exploit inefficiencies in the overall market, you could have made a mint just betting on the guys Frankie Carbo was putting money on in the 1950s.
   79. You Know Nothing JT Snow (YR) Posted: March 11, 2013 at 11:38 PM (#4386705)
The general talent level in the NBA is light years beyond where it was then and Russell types are much more common. But a big guy with his quickness at a time when the power forward might be a 6'4" white guy .


'cuz white guys post up like THIS, but black guys post up like THIS.
   80. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: March 12, 2013 at 08:41 AM (#4386773)
If there's an inefficiency in boxing, I'd tend to think that it's in matchmaking ("styles make fights", right?) instead of the stuff that's inside the ring. There might be room for optimization on opponent selection for a promoter trying to put a good-but-not-great kid over the top and into a title fight, for instance. Where's the ideal risk/reward trade off as you amp up the level of competition?
   81. BDC Posted: March 12, 2013 at 09:59 AM (#4386818)
Big guys were slow then

I too saw only the last couple of years of Russell's career, and the centers I remember best from those years were Chamberlain and Reed, who were pretty damn quick. But they were not typical, either. I looked back through NBA-Ref, and the more typical center of the day was Darrall Imhoff, who I remember as a great lumbering individual - and he was a *good* player, a great big pillar of a center. Indeed, Russell matched up very well against such players.
   82. Ron J2 Posted: March 12, 2013 at 10:55 AM (#4386848)
#40 Bowling lanes change depending on how they're prepared. I recall reading an article on this many years ago. Your typical recreational bowler would find professional conditions very difficult.

But they absolutely have stats on how each lane plays during a tournament.
   83. Greg K Posted: March 12, 2013 at 11:27 AM (#4386861)
I've always wanted better curling stats. % Draws and so on are nice, but of course not all draws are created equal.
   84. Ron J2 Posted: March 12, 2013 at 12:20 PM (#4386887)
#60 Morgan's a great example. The Diamond Appraised includes all kind of scouting reports that simply ignore how good Morgan was -- focusing on his size.

When Morgan was younger he was graded a C class player. Didn't get graded outstanding in any aspect of the game (and the scouts managed to avoid noticing that he was always on base. 148 walks in 148 games and no mention.) Didn't get graded as A for speed either and frankly, missing that means that the scouts in question simply weren't paying attention.

As late as 1970 the Senators scouting reports were dismissive of Morgan. Swear to God they were saying that they didn't need him. This from the team whose 2B job was in the hands of Tim Cullen and/or Bernie Allen (Not that the two combined wouldn't have been a fine player. Tim Cullen was a fine defensive player who couldn't hit despite a great deal of work with Ted Williams. Allen wasn't a bad hitter for a middle infielder of the day)

Hell, Morgan was a NP (non prospect) when signed. Second player ever signed by Bill Wight (The first being Walt "No Neck"
Williams 5' 6", 180) You know how the scouting community reacted? "First Williams and now a midget." They're laughing at
a guy whose first two signings make the majors and one of whom is an inner circle HOFer.)

There was a Ranger scout who wrote in 1977 (ie after two consecutive MVPs) that he was "Somewhat limited because of small body."
   85. Ron J2 Posted: March 12, 2013 at 12:51 PM (#4386897)
#83 Linda Moore frequently references numbers like 83% on in turn hits (plus the curler's turn of preference) so somebody's keeping the stats you want.

The problem being that a player has somewhere around 200 total shots by the end of the round robin so a the third on a team that hits a lot might have 3 in turn draws all week, And if somebody blows a sweeping call, or one of those shots picks ...

While ice conditions at the top events are pretty consistent these days (basically only two people do the ice at major events) so you could get meaningful numbers for any of the top teams.
   86. Greg Pope thinks the Cubs are reeking havoc Posted: March 12, 2013 at 01:06 PM (#4386906)
Bowling lanes change depending on how they're prepared. I recall reading an article on this many years ago. Your typical recreational bowler would find professional conditions very difficult.

I bowled in a competitive league. I was one of the poorer bowlers, averaging in the mid-180's. I bowled in the county tournament twice, which was prepared under professional conditions. They had a name for it, I don't remember what it was. Anyway, I struggled to crack 120.
   87. smileyy Posted: March 12, 2013 at 01:23 PM (#4386916)
[77] The NBA thread talked recently about what a modern Bill Russell would look like. My take was that there wasn't a ton of precedent for big men developing away from the basket skills. There was video showing Russell displaying real athleticism in the open court, so I don't think he'd be purely limited to playing on the block. One could make an argument that he was what you'd get if Dwight Howard (pre-injury) were transplanted to that time. Another is that he might look more like a Kevin Garnett, with the ability to space the floor as well as be a great defensive presence. Of course, there's a trade-off between floor spacing and offensive rebounding.

The Elo ratings at the top pretty fluid, and can change drastically at just the whims of a few voters -- I'm not sure how much weight I'd put into them.
   88. smileyy Posted: March 12, 2013 at 01:26 PM (#4386919)
How do bowling lane preparations differ? Is it the amount of friction at different places in the lane? Is it just a degree of difficulty kind of thing? Or is there something about the different preparations that let a more skilled player take advantage of them, that an amateur unused to them would struggle with?

(I love this site -- I get the opportunity to learn so many random things)
   89. The Chronicles of Reddick Posted: March 12, 2013 at 01:42 PM (#4386936)
Worst NBA contracts

Here is a list of the worst contracts in the NBA according to Simmons. So you would think that "Moneyball" might work for the NBA but it seems that there is always going to be a NBA GM that will overpay a marginal player.
   90. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 12, 2013 at 02:00 PM (#4386958)
How do bowling lane preparations differ? Is it the amount of friction at different places in the lane? Is it just a degree of difficulty kind of thing? Or is there something about the different preparations that let a more skilled player take advantage of them, that an amateur unused to them would struggle with?

I believe it's how they oil the lanes. Lanes for recreational bowlers have more oil in middle of the lane, where you want to be, so the ball will roll truer. I read something where this has changed over time (bowling alleys are intentionally making conditions easier to attract more bowlers) and 300 games are now wildly more common than they were 30 years ago.
   91. Greg Pope thinks the Cubs are reeking havoc Posted: March 12, 2013 at 02:13 PM (#4386964)
How do bowling lane preparations differ?

snapper's right, it's how they oil the lanes. If you throw the ball without any sort of hook at all, it won't matter. But you also won't get many strikes that way. What most people don't realize is that bowling lanes are very, very oily. If you threw a hook on a lane with literally no oil, the ball would go shooting off to the left (for a righty) within about 2 feet from the line. There's a lot of spin on a ball, even with only a small hook.

So for recreational bowling, they oil the lanes heavily in the middle and drier on the outside. If you miss your spot to the middle, it hits more oil, doesn't hook as much, and you still hit the headpin. If you miss your spot wide, it's drier, and your ball will hook more, and you still hit the headpin. In a recreational league, you basically get huge error bars. In a tournament, they spread the oil more evenly, or even the opposite (drier in the middle and more oily on the outside), and you have to hit your spot exactly to get the strike. Miss by even a board and you miss the headpin altogether.

There's also a spread of how far down the oil goes. Sometimes they let it be dry close to the pins and you'll see balls go down without much movement, then take a huge left turn near the pins. Again, it makes it so that you have to throw exactly right to get the strike.

And yes, there are analytics for this stuff.
   92. smileyy Posted: March 12, 2013 at 02:27 PM (#4386973)
So its just a degree-of-difficulty thing?
   93. Greg Pope thinks the Cubs are reeking havoc Posted: March 12, 2013 at 02:59 PM (#4387005)
Basically, yes.
   94. You Know Nothing JT Snow (YR) Posted: March 12, 2013 at 03:02 PM (#4387008)
If there's an inefficiency in boxing, I'd tend to think that it's in matchmaking ("styles make fights", right?) instead of the stuff that's inside the ring. There might be room for optimization on opponent selection for a promoter trying to put a good-but-not-great kid over the top and into a title fight, for instance. Where's the ideal risk/reward trade off as you amp up the level of competition?


I actually had a lengthy conversation on this topic with a couple of very well-schooled boxing historians several years ago, and I do think that there's an answer to your question and that this answer has changed significantly over the decades as the economics of boxing have changed.

Yes, true, styles make fights, and by the 1930s at the latest boxing technique had settled in around the tactics and limitations created by the universal adoption of "small gloves", enough so that a handful of consistent "styles" had become fairly codified - your "sluggers", your "swarmers", your "technical boxers", and your "boxer-punchers". To some extent there's a bit of "rock-paper-scissors" in matching up the styles but every fighter, style aside, is an individual who his own strengths and weaknesses, so while it is generally fair to say "Technical boxers beat sluggers (Ali d. Foreman), swarmers beat technical boxers (Frazier d. Ali), sluggers beat swarmers (Foreman d. Frazier)" it's really only a generality akin to a baseball addage like "left-handed sluggers like the ball low and in."

But the really interesting question is how you develop your young, greenhorn fighter to cope with the varying techniques and styles he'd encounter as he climbs the ranks to eventually make real money (for you, the kindly manager, of course). In this aspect there has been a series of enormous changes in the convention wisdom over the last century. Working backwards, for the last 30 years or so as PPV has come to entirely dominate the marketplace of the sport, the most valuable thing a young fighter can bring to the bargaining table is a perfect record. That gaudy 25-0 allows a promoter to crow to the heavens, "UNDEFEATED!" as he'll try and invoke the memories of a young Tyson, a young Ali, a young Hagler, or any number of all-timers who won belts without a blemish on their records. The fighter who sports a mere 20-5 record against superior competition, including dipping his toe into the top-10 waters for a couple of losses, just doesn't get that kind of scratch - worse, if he's actually learned a thing or two from his experience, the 25-0 fighter's manager will try to keep away from him, 'lest he screw up his golden boy's gilded record and the casual public's dream of what he may become.

I think it's obvious to say that fighters simply didn't have that sort of luxury in the "old days", when the field was deeper as was the public's interest in the sport. Up until the advent of televised fights the preferred method of developing a fighter was to have him fight as often as physically able against a variety of styles specifically for the purposes of putting a few beatings on the lad to "get him serious". Many fighters simply took as many fights as they could schedule, opponent be damned, because they simply needed the payday - I consider Jersey Joe Walcott their patron saint. This man became heavyweight champion of the world at 37 (and was robbed of a deserved championship win over Joe Louis some years earlier). Look at his record. Look at the records of his opponents. This was a blue-collar championship rise through the ranks, against hungry fighters eager to play spoiler for the promise of an extra $20 on their following fight. If you really want to bug your eyes out, look at where the name "Elmer Ray" shows up on Jersey Joe's record, and imagine what Elmer's career was like (he was a scary dude).

Anyways, I guess my point is that the "ideal risk/reward" for bringing up fighters has changed a fair bit. Fully admitting I don't follow boxing anymore I don't see any reason to doubt that it's still focused on protecting undefeated records for rising stars in hopes of getting at least one glorious payday out of them. Just glancing at the latest series of victims of heavyweight champ Vitali Klitschko I see his last 4 defenses were against fellows with records of 21-0, 15-2, 44-1, and 17-0 - 3 protected greenhorns and a blown-up lightheavyweight, basically. Joe Louis' last championship defenses were against Jersey Joe Walcott and Tami Mauriello (69-7-1), Billy Conn (62-10-1), and Abe Simon (36-9-1)*. Pretty big difference in experience there. Promoters don't get giddy at the thought of enticing casual fans to buy a PPV to watch a title defense against a guy who has 10 or so losses already.


* If you BoxRec Joe's defenses you'll see the name "Johnny Davis" in that string, which I omit. The fight was scheduled as a 4 round exhibition, and at the very last minute the NY State Athletic Commission demanded it be changed to a legitimate bout, claiming they did not recognize "exhibitions" in their jurisdiction. Davis was a very low-level fighter and would never have found himself in the ring with a fighter of Louis' caliber were it not supposed to be an exhibition, as the newspaper report of the fight bears out.
   95. Jakson Posted: March 12, 2013 at 04:02 PM (#4387075)
After Baseball I would think the most easily analyzed of the sports given would have to be Football. While it's true that it can be difficult to quantify each individual players contribution to each play, at least you have easily distinguishable events to analyze.

Majority of plays in Football have a defined start and end, with an outcome that can measured in yardage if not simple success/failure. There's also the nice relationship that positive yardage fairly directly contributes to scoring. In Soccer and Hockey, you have the added difficultly of the play being fluid with few defined stoppages (and in Hockey you even have player substitutions while the play is still going on). Plus you have the relatively huge question of what exactly goes into creating scoring opportunities.

   96. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: March 12, 2013 at 05:15 PM (#4387132)
Many fighters simply took as many fights as they could schedule, opponent be damned, because they simply needed the payday


I was looking at Harry Greb's record the other day, and I was just totally blown away by his fight schedule. He was fighting top guys, fighting up one or even two weight classes, and taking new fights every two or three weeks! And it's not like he was getting out of those fights unscathed, either...
   97. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: March 12, 2013 at 05:40 PM (#4387165)
I too saw only the last couple of years of Russell's career, and the centers I remember best from those years were Chamberlain and Reed, who were pretty damn quick. But they were not typical, either. I looked back through NBA-Ref, and the more typical center of the day was Darrall Imhoff, who I remember as a great lumbering individual - and he was a *good* player, a great big pillar of a center. Indeed, Russell matched up very well against such players.


There are some broadcasts out there dating back to 1963, all Finals games. Russell runs so relatively fast and jumps so relatively high and his timing and sense are so great that it looks like he's playing a different game than the other players, very much like Orr or early Gretzky.

At least one of the games is against Wilt (SF Warriors), but Wilt is so lumbering and "low-posty" that the point still holds. In terms of fluidity and speed and grace, he wasn't in Russell's class. (Small sample size noted.) Other than not stepping out to three-point land, Russell's game looked thoroughly modern, even though it's now 50 years ago.
   98. smileyy Posted: March 12, 2013 at 05:55 PM (#4387183)
Greg, snapper: Thanks for the bowling education.
   99. You Know Nothing JT Snow (YR) Posted: March 12, 2013 at 09:32 PM (#4387344)
I was looking at Harry Greb's record the other day, and I was just totally blown away by his fight schedule. He was fighting top guys, fighting up one or even two weight classes, and taking new fights every two or three weeks! And it's not like he was getting out of those fights unscathed, either...


Oh yeah, even by the standards of his day Greb was considered a freak of activity (more than 40 fights in 1919 alone!). Here's his official record on BoxRec, which you've probably already seen - 299 bouts in all. Some other famed iron men of the ring from that era were former lightheavyweight champions "Slapsie" Maxie Rosenblum and Battling Levinsky, whose prolific bout output rivaled Greb's, but Greb fought well outside of his weight class routinely and at the highest levels of compeition - it's no knock against either of these all-time greats to say they don't quite measure up to Harry Greb and they'd probably say the same thing - Harry beat 'em both! Greb had no "decline phase" either, dying during minor surgery at the age of 32 with plenty left in his tank.

The real question here is this - was Harry Greb the greatest pound-for-pound fighter to ever lace up the gloves? Does his career overshadow those of ring legends like Sugar Ray Robinson, Henry Armstrong, Willie Pep, and Muhammad Ali? The record, in my opinion says "yes", but my answer to the question is a resigned "no". Sadly, in one of the great ironies of the sport, every single recorded frame of Greb in combat has been lost to time. The man with 300 career fights left not a second of footage for posterity, and the man who hated to train can only be found on film in a series of training clips taken for newsreels in the leadup to his legendary 1925 fight with legendary welterweight champion Mickey Walker (view every surviving second HERE along with a wonderful write-up from the great Mike Casey). The man who defeated dozens of all-time elite fighters, and whose whirlwind style was considered absolutely singular and unlike anything else the sport had ever seen, has left us nothing for analysis, and for that I cannot in good conscience rank him where he probably deserves to be ranked as an all-time fighter.

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