Sports

“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.

The value of an NFL roster spot

by on December 5, 2014 at 2:03 am in History, Medicine, Sports | Permalink

One of the most self-sacrificing—read: craziest—players from that era, Jack Youngblood, played through the 1979 playoffs and 1980 Pro Bowl with a broken leg. (That’s right: he played through a severe injury in the Pro Bowl). Last year, Youngbloodtold the New York Post that guys who missed time with an injury back then didn’t just have to explain themselves to their untrusting employers—they had to explain themselves to their own teammates. Rather than fake injuries to swindle their way into bogus workers’ compensation claims, it has always been much more common for NFL players to fake health.

In the same New York Post story, Antrel Rolle says he hid not one, but two rotator cuff tears from team doctors. In 1974, the team doctor for the Los Angeles Rams told the Washington Post that he’d learned to check both legs for injuries because limping players liked to trick him by presenting the wrong one. The marginal guys, it is generally understood, are the most likely to fake good health, knowing how tenuous their hold on a roster spot can be.

Most of the rest of the quite interesting article details a case of a player who was administered truth serum in 1986.  The full article, by Andrew Heisel, is here.

There is no great stagnation

by on December 4, 2014 at 5:15 am in Sports, Television, Web/Tech | Permalink

Tekla Perry reports:

To feel the impact of the [hockey] hits at home, TV viewers will need to purchase the $300 ButtKicker (I kid you not), a gadget that attaches to a chair or couch and uses low-frequency audio signals (the company calls it a silent sub-woofer) to shake the furniture in perfect synchrony to the on-screen action.

There is more here, via David Price.

David E. Kalist and Daniel Y. Lee report:

This article investigates the effects of National Football League (NFL) games on crime. Using a panel data set that includes daily crime incidences in eight large cities with NFL teams, we examine how various measurements of criminal activities change on game day compared with nongame days. Our findings from both ordinary least squares and negative binomial regressions indicate that NFL home games are associated with a 2.6% increase in total crimes, while financially motivated crimes such as larceny and motor vehicle theft increase by 4.1% and 6.7%, respectively, on game days. However, we observe that play-off games are associated with a decrease in financially motivated crimes. The effects of game time (afternoon vs. evening) and upset wins and losses on crime are also considered.

Is it that a game works up everyone’s excitement, but the playoff games the criminals actually watch?  That is via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Tivo and Netflix ought to have been made other entertainment more popular and football less popular as a form of entertainment but instead more people are watching football than ever before. Gabriel Rossman asks why?

We can start with a few basic technological shifts, specifically the DVR and broadband internet. Both technologies have the effect that people are watching fewer commercials. From this we can infer that advertisers will have a pronounced preference for “DVR-proof” advertising.

….In practice getting people to watch spot advertising means programming that has to be watched live and in practice that in turn means sports. Thus it is entirely predictable that advertisers will pay a premium for sports. It is also predictable that the cable industry will pay a premium for sports because must-watch ephemera is a good insurance policy against cord-cutting. Moreover, as a straight-forward Ricardian rent type issue, we would predict that this increased demand would accrue to the owners of factor inputs: athletes, team owners, and (in the short-run) the owners of cable channels with contracts to carry sports content. Indeed this has basically all happened….

Here’s something else that is entirely predictable from these premises: we should have declining viewership for sports….If you’re the marginal viewer who ex ante finds sports and scripted equally compelling, it seems like as sports get more expensive and you keep having to watch ads, whereas scripted gets dirt cheap, ad-free, and generally more convenient, the marginal viewer would give up sports, watch last season’s episodes of Breaking Bad on Netflix, be blissfully unaware of major advertising campaigns, and pocket the $50 difference between a basic cable package and a $10 Netflix subscription.

…The weird thing is that this latter prediction didn’t happen. During exactly the same period over which sports got more expensive in absolute terms and there was declining direct cost and hassle for close substitutes, viewership for sports increased. From 2003 to 2013, sports viewership was up 27%. Or rather, baseball isn’t doing so great and basketball is holding its own, but holy moly, people love football. If you look at both the top events and top series on tv, it’s basically football, football, some other crap, and more football…. I just can’t understand how when one thing gets more expensive and something else that’s similar gets a lot cheaper and lower hassle, that you see people flocking to the thing that is absolutely more hassle and relatively more money.

It’s a good question. Demographics don’t appear to explain the change. Football skews young, male and black but none of these are undergoing rapid increase. (It’s the aged that are undergoing high growth rates but it’s baseball that appeals more to the old and that isn’t doing great). Fantasy football is big but is it cause or effect?

One possibility is that precisely because there are so few common events to coordinate on, the ones that do coordinate become more important. Why football and not baseball or basketball? Why not? It’s not hard to spin stories but it may also be that random advantages snowballed.

Other theories?

I found this piece by Alex Hutchinson very interesting, here is one excerpt on the issue of incentives:

One reason marathoners are running faster is that road racing is more lucrative. When the Sheikh of Dubai put up $1 million in prize money plus a $1 million world-record bonus in 2008, the Dubai Marathon instantly became one of the world’s fastest, despite its desert temps (average high in January, when the race is held, is 75°F). In fact, prize money for road races more than doubled since 1998, while track racing purses have gotten smaller (see below). As a result, runners are increasingly heading straight to the marathon. But big money can also draw the fastest runners away from the fastest courses, and the standard winner-takes-most prize structure favors cat-and-mouse tactics as runners race each other instead of the clock. When the Amsterdam Marathon switched to time-based prizing in 1999, four different runners immediately smashed the course record by 90 seconds. The sub-two-hour solution? A big pot of money that runners can win no matter where they race, and that is shared equally among all who break 2:00 in that event.

It is not obvious to me why a big first prize is not a good incentive, for instance why does it militate against speed to “race each other instead of the clock”?  Is it that the runners stay on too few courses, thus lowering the variance of performance outcomes?

In any case the hat tip goes to Vic Sarjoo.