Sports

Kevin Erdmann writes:

I think basketball would be vastly improved if after the 3rd quarter, we just added 20 points to the higher score, and said, first team to that score wins.

Or, for that matter, make it score based instead of time based. It’s halftime when one team gets to 30, and the game is over when one team gets to 60.

It gets rid of all the fouling and time outs at the end of close games, and it means that it doesn’t serve any purpose for the winning team to drain the clock. And, it means that a team that falls far behind has more of a chance to catch up – like in baseball.

Of course this would not maximize ad revenue, which tends to increase with close games as the number of timeouts rises.  Furthermore perhaps people do not enjoy the outcome as much if they do not have to wait a bit for it.  Nonetheless an interesting idea.

Here is a piece by Tomala, Jia, and Norton:

When people seek to impress others, they often do so by highlighting individual achievements. Despite the intuitive appeal of this strategy, we demonstrate that people often prefer potential rather than achievement when evaluating others. Indeed, compared with references to achievement (e.g., “this person has won an award for his work”), references to potential (e.g., “this person could win an award for his work”) appear to stimulate greater interest and processing, which can translate into more favorable reactions. This tendency creates a phenomenon whereby the potential to be good at something can be preferred over actually being good at that very same thing. We document this preference for potential in laboratory and field experiments, using targets ranging from athletes to comedians to graduate school applicants and measures ranging from salary allocations to online ad clicks to admission decisions.

Here are some ungated copies.  For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis, who sent me the link in response to my earlier post on age discrimination.

In a Ramsey model this can be true.

I went to see a Thunder-Clippers game with Kevin and Robin, and as usual parts of the live experience were rather distasteful to me, including the noise, the arena announcer, and the cheerleaders.  These features of sports have, overall, become worse over time.

That said, NBA basketball largely succeeds in appealing to both high-status and low-status men.  (Roller derby and pro wrestling can’t quite bridge that gap, NASCAR is doing this more than it used to.  On arena strategies for making everyone feel exclusive, try this interesting piece.)  Neither group goes away from the experience fully happy, but each receives something of value.

High-status men receive ancillary products related to the NBA, such as statistics and clever analytics, from say Bill Simmons or fivethirtyeight or Zach Lowe.  These make the experience of watching the game more high brow and also more satisfying.  In response to that improvement, some other aspects of the experience can be dumbed down, without the high-status men defecting.  The stupid promotions and halftime shows, for instance, becomes less suited to what the high status men might be looking for.  But you can ignore them when you’re happy to sit there and think through PER for this year’s Kevin Love, whether the Wizards should take so many long twos, or why the Atlanta Hawks were such a surprise.

And thus we have another unintended consequence: making an experience smarter, as do the clever sportswriters, can also contribute to making part of that same experience more stupid.

Addendum: Watching the game, I also learned that the Thunder have a deeper team than I had thought, and that Chris Paul is no longer a quick point guard.

Seattle Art Museum and New England’s Clark Art Institute are wagering temporary loans of major paintings based on the outcome of Super Bowl XLIX between the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots. The masterpieces that have been anted up showcase the beautiful landscapes of the Northwest and the Northeast respectively.
The article is here, more here, and for the pointer I thank Chris F. Masse.

“Highly specific pools of reputation information will become more useful in aggregate,” said Mr. Fertik, co-author with David C. Thompson of “The Reputation Economy,” a guide to optimizing digital footprints. “If you’re a really good Uber passenger, that may be useful information for Amtrak or American Airlines. But if you add in your reputation from Airbnb plus OpenTable plus eBay, it starts to get useful globally.”

There is more here, interesting throughout.  But will there be errors in these measurements?  As I wrote to Ashok Rao, fresh regressions are a public good.

“Let’s Play Two”

by on January 24, 2015 at 11:07 am in Film, Food and Drink, Sports, Uncategorized | Permalink

Very sadly Ernie Banks — the baseball player for you foreigners out there — has passed away.

Oddly, I have taken to quoting him lately.  If you are going out to eat with a small group, I recommend two stops.  No, don’t eat any more food than usual, but distribute your meal across two restaurants.  Have a few appetizers in one, and then leave and move on to another.  (This is easiest to do in Eden Center, with its wide selection of small-dish Vietnamese eateries, but other methods will work.)  Of course you must sequence your meals properly, the Greek eggplant must become before the Sichuan noodles, not vice versa.

This approach will improve the conversation at your table, if only by breaking up the original seating plan.  It also makes you more aware and more appreciative of what you are eating.

If you are going out to a movie, see two.  There is a fixed cost of attending, whether in terms of the traffic, the babysitter, or simply the will to spend time away from Facebook.  “Let’s Play Two.”

I have the impression that consumers “do fewer doubleheaders” than when I was growing up, I am not sure why.  Perhaps we have grown too impatient.

Banks’s obituary described him as “an unconquerable optimist whose sunny disposition never dimmed in 19 seasons with the perennially stumbling Chicago Cubs…”

Here are other quotations from Ernie Banks.  He said “The only way to prove you are a good sport is to lose.”

Apply a dose of science and big data to a team sport such as basketball.  The big gains will come in cooperation.  Who should take the next shot?, when is a “corner three” worthwhile?, who should play with the second unit, how good is the pick and roll against this opponent?, and so on.  Big data also will bring some gains at the individual level, such as from better training regimens, but those moves were easier to spot in the first place.  The issues involving cooperation are those where simple intuitive observation, of the old school style, will miss a lot of potential improvements.

Cooperative gains are more fragile, however, because everyone has to get the strategy right to reap the benefits (think of Michael Kremer’s O-Ring model).  So the previous champion, San Antonio, has fallen off dramatically because Leonard is injured and Tony Parker is playing like his age (32).  Atlanta suddenly had all the pieces gel, and they now, to the surprise of almost everyone, have the best record in the East.  (They have learned the ball movement and shooting style which San Antonio perfected last year during their championship run, but Atlanta has no big stars.)  Golden State is a positive surprise too, with the best record in the league.  Cleveland has attempted to do “cooperation” (ha) on the terms of its stars, not on the terms of the data, and that experiment has fallen flat.

In Panama I watched an old Lakers game from the 1980s (vs. Portland) and was struck by how tall everyone was, compared to today.  There were fewer surprises that year, and I believe those facts are related.  The three-point shot has made players shorter and more cooperative and arguably increased the value of the coach and his assistants.

Some of these arguments should apply to areas other than basketball, so perhaps a higher value for data-driven cooperation will mean more surprises in the world in general.

The actual title is “Decision-Making under the Gambler’s Fallacy” (pdf) and the authors are daniel Chen, Tobias J. Moskowitz, and Kelly Shue.  Here is one short bit from what is more generally a very interesting paper:

We test our hypothesis in three high-stakes settings: refugee court asylum decisions in the US, a field experiment by Cole et al. (2013) in which experienced loan officers in India review real small-business loan applications in an experimentally controlled environment, and umpire calls of pitches in Major League Baseball games. In each setting, we show that the ordering of cases is likely to be conditionally random. However, decisions are significantly negatively autocorrelated. We estimate that up to 5 percent of decisions are reversed due to the gambler’s fallacy.

To make that more concrete, if a baseball umpire first calls a ball, the next pitch he is more likely to then call a strike.  Of course this may plague your paper refereeing decisions, whether or not you finish your next book, and your dating life.

The original pointer was from Cass Sunstein on Twitter.

The method, which extracts drugs from bacteria that live in dirt, has yielded a powerful new antibiotic, researchers reported in the journal Nature on Wednesday. The new drug, teixobactin, was tested in mice and easily cured severe infections, with no side effects.

Better still, the researchers said, the drug works in a way that makes it very unlikely that bacteria will become resistant to it. And the method developed to produce the drug has the potential to unlock a trove of natural compounds to fight infections and cancer — molecules that were previously beyond scientists’ reach because the microbes that produce them could not be grown in the laboratory.

Studies on people will start in about two years, the NYT article is here.  Here is the underlying Nature article.

Alternatively, here is a claim that James Harden is the future of basketball.

I thank numerous MR readers for related pointers.

Modal markets in everything

by on January 6, 2015 at 11:34 am in Economics, Sports | Permalink

Accrington Stanley, who would have faced Manchester United in the FA Cup third round had they beaten Yeovil in the previous round, are selling commemorative tickets for the game that will never happen for £20.

The article does not specify which means of payment they will accept.

The pointer is from Simon Koppel.

According to forecasts from Match.com and Plenty of Fish, two of the country’s largest dating sites, the single most popular time for online dating — the window when the most people sign up, log on and poke around — will be Jan. 4, from roughly 5 to 8 p.m. Zoosk, another data-focused dating site, backs that estimate up; in 2014, it’s most trafficked time was on the Sunday after New Year’s.

The full article is here, via Ninja Economics.  Might it mean that a) online dating is a kind of palliative against holiday depression?  Or that online dating is a kind of New Year’s resolution, a willingness to undergo a brutal experience for a supposed potential long-run benefit?  Or a bit of both?  Personally, I engage in some of my least productive work on Sunday evenings.

Your model, by the way, should not neglect these corollary facts:

Interestingly, this cycle doesn’t just play out on dating sites — in fact, it’s far broader than that. Researchers have also observed a post-holiday spike in searches for porn, for instance, and a 2012 study by Facebook’s data team found that people are far more likely to change their relationship status in January or February than they are at any other time of year. Offline, the holiday season tends to see a jump in both condom sales and conceptions.

Basketball average is over?

by on December 26, 2014 at 11:52 am in Economics, Sports | Permalink

So in May, the team [Milwaukee Bucks] hired Dan Hill, a facial coding expert who reads the faces of college prospects and N.B.A. players to determine if they have the right emotional attributes to help the Bucks.

The approach may sound to some like palm reading, but the Bucks were so impressed with Hill’s work before the 2014 draft that they have retained him to analyze their players and team chemistry throughout the current season.

There is more here.  How well does this model retrodict various successes and failures, relative to underlying levels of talent?  How about if we apply the model to economists?  Potential graduate students?  Mates?  Where else?  File under speculative.

The Internal Revenue Service is putting outfielder Darryl Strawberry’s retirement annuity on the auction block next month.

The annuity, seized by the IRS because Strawberry owed back taxes, was part of a contract he signed in 1985, back when he was slugging home runs for the New York Mets.

The annuity will be worth about $1.3 million, to be paid out over nearly 19 years, when it goes up for sale on January 20, according to court documents.

The starting bid is $550,000.

There is more here, and for the pointer I thank Zachary Klein.

Smuggling Cubans

by on December 18, 2014 at 7:30 am in Economics, Law, Sports | Permalink

This post isn’t about smuggling Cuban cigars it’s an incredible story about smuggling Cuban baseball players.

The average wage in Cuba is about $20 per month so a typical Cuban might earn 50 times more in the United States but a star Cuban baseball player (who also earns about $20 per month in Cuba) might earn 10,000 times more in the United States. Markets abhor a price differential so there is an active market in smuggled Cubans.

Yasiel Puig, now a star player for the Los Angeles Dodgers, was smuggled out of Cuba in 2012. The smuggling operation was paid for by a group of Miami businessmen:

Investigators and court documents say Suarez was one of the Miami-based financiers of the 2012 smuggling venture in which Puig was taken by boat from Cuba to a fishing village near Cancun, Mexico, eventually crossing into the U.S. at Brownsville, Texas, on July 3 of that year. In return, the financiers were getting a percentage of the seven-year, $42 million contract Puig signed with the Dodgers.

The story is not unique

The plea is the second in Miami federal court this year involving the smuggling of a Cuban baseball player into the U.S. Last month, 41-year-old Eliezer Lazo was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison for conspiring to smuggle 1,000 Cubans, including baseball players such as Texas Rangers outfielder Leonys Martin.

Puig did in fact pay Suarez $2.5 million. A high price for a relatively simple operation–the going rate to smuggle an ordinary Cuban is about $10,000–but, as we will see, more than smuggling was involved. It took five attempts before Puig reached the shores of Mexico. On one of the earlier attempts Puig was captured by the US Coast guard who sent him back–after some of the crew asked for his autograph!

On the fifth attempt, Puig, along with “a boxer, a pinup girl, and a Santeria priest, the latter of whom blessed their expedition with a splash of rum and a sprinkle of chicken blood” managed to escape Cuba guided by the smugglers and their accomplices—“The Chinaman” and “The Hungarian”. Once in Mexico, however, the operation got messy because Mexico’s Zetas gang were acting as intermediaries and with Puig in hand they demanded a greater share of the proceeds.

“If they didn’t receive the money, they were saying that at any moment they might give him a machetazo”—a whack with a machete—“chop off an arm, a finger, whatever, and he would never play baseball again, not for anyone.” 

The case has lots of interesting asides: Why flee to Mexico first and only then to the United States? It’s all about the money and the weird rules of MLB:

A foreign-born player who immigrates without a contract is treated as an amateur by MLB; he can negotiate only with the team that drafts him. By declaring himself a free agent before arriving, that player can entertain all comers; the difference is worth millions. Federal law, of course, bars Americans from paying money to Cubans—or “trading with the enemy”—so a ballplayer like Puig needs not only to defect but also to establish legal residency in a country that he does not actually intend to live in.

Now back to the Zetas and the hostage negotiations.

As the standoff entered its third week, the smugglers began looking elsewhere to recoup their costs. The idea occurred to them that they could auction Puig off.

Eventually a rescue operation was staged by the Miami businessmen (details are unclear) and Puig escapes to Mexico City where in essence an auction is held in which the Dodgers win with a bid of $42 million over seven years. 

Puig, however, continued to be threatened by the Zetas, hence, it seems, the aforementioned $2.5 million dollar payment to the Miami businessman who in turn paid off the Zetas (a murder also appears to be related).

As if all of this isn’t astounding enough these details have come to light only because of a US civil case against Puig. Puig had been approached a few years earlier when he was just 19 by another would be smuggler. Fearing the state police who monitored him constantly, Puig alerted the sports ministry to the offer and they notified state security. The alleged smuggler was arrested by the Cuban police, jailed, and perhaps tortured. Now here is where it gets really strange. The alleged smuggler, still in jail in Cuba, and his mother are suing Puig in American court for $12 million dollars for turning the smuggler over to the Cuban authorities and thus potentially violating the Torture Victim Protection Act.

There are many lessons here about open(ing) borders, rent seeking, the law, and how making some trades illegal creates black markets often ruled by violence. Thankfully an opening of relations with Cuba may cause this market to wither away. Next up, college athletes.

You can file this one under “Questions that are rarely asked.”  The authors are Bauman, Gale, and Milton and the subtitle is Cross sectional study of political affiliation and physical activity.  It seems, in fact, that the armchair socialists are up out of their chairs:

Objective To examine the validity of the concept of left wing “armchair socialists” and whether they sit more and move less than their right wing and centrist counterparts.

Design Secondary analysis of Eurobarometer data from 32 European countries.

Setting The study emanated from the authors’ sit-stand desks (rather than from their armchairs).

Participants Total of 29 193 European adults, of whom 1985 were left wing, 1902 right wing, 17 657 political centrists, and 7649 politically uncommitted.

Main outcome measures Self-reported political affiliation, physical activity, and total daily sitting time.

Methods Linear models were used to examine the relation between physical activity, sitting time, and reported political affiliation.

Results The findings refute the existence of an “armchair socialist”; people at the extremes of both ends of the political spectrum were more physically active, with the right wing reporting 62.2 more weekly minutes of physical activity (95% confidence interval 23.9 to 100.5), and the left wing 57.8 more minutes (20.6 to 95.1) than those in the political centre. People with right wing political affiliations reported 12.8 minutes less time sitting a day (3.8 to 21.9) than the centrists. It is those sitting in the middle (politically) that are moving less, and possibly sitting more, both on the fence and elsewhere, making them a defined at-risk group.

Conclusions There is little evidence to support the notion of armchair socialists, as they are more active than the mainstream in the political centre. Encouraging centrists to adopt stronger political views may be an innovative approach to increasing their physical activity, potentially benefiting population health.

The full paper is here, and for the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.