# Category: Sports

## Statistics-free sports prediction

We use a simple machine learning model, logistically-weighted regularized linear least squares regression, in order to predict baseball, basketball, football, and hockey games. We do so using only the thirty-year record of which visiting teams played which home teams, on what date, and what the final score was. No real “statistics” are used. The method works best in basketball, likely because it is high-scoring and has long seasons. It works better in football and hockey than in baseball, but in baseball the predictions are closer to a theoretical optimum. The football predictions, while good, can in principle be made much better, and the hockey predictions can be made somewhat better. These findings tells us that in basketball, most statistics are subsumed by the scores of the games, whereas in baseball, football, and hockey, further study of game and player statistics is necessary to predict games as well as can be done.

That is an almost Hayekian result, and I wonder what the people at 538 will think of it.

For the pointer I thank Agustin Lebron.

## Insurance markets in everything — celebrity disgrace

Policies can be individually tailored to reflect a company’s confidence in a celebrity. For example, for sponsorship contracts ranging from £1m to £50m, policies can be designed to reimburse the full amount to the sponsoring company in the event of a misdemeanour by the celebrity, or pay out on a sliding scale, depending on the nature of the incident.

Premiums vary, but brokers say they tend to start at 0.25 per cent of the sum insured, or just under 1 per cent, on average, for more bespoke arrangements.

Cover can also be arranged for different types of risk. One of the main types is loss of profit, if customers stop buying certain products in the wake of a celebrity’s disgrace.

And this:

But, as with all insurance, it pays to read the small print and understand the factors that determine the success of a claim. “If someone has a squeaky clean image, the threshold for disgrace is lower than it would be for a hellraiser,” Mr Rackliffe explains.

## The NBA’s marginal revolution in triple-doubles

If [Draymond] Green is truly gunning for triple doubles, there should be an increase in his production in the third stat category in games once he has secured a double-double. When Green has locked up a points/rebounds double-double, his assists per minute increases to 0.27 from 0.21. Similarly, when he has a points/assists double-double, his rebounds per minute rises to 0.44 from 0.28 and when he has an assists/rebounds double-double, his points per minute goes up to 0.69 from 0.40.

Here is the WSJ piece, which covers other players as well.  I still think that sports as a medium for teaching both economics and statistics to younger individuals (and others) remains a somewhat underexplored opportunity…

## The Mike Tyson theory of Donald Trump

Mike Tyson rose to rapid prominence and became heavyweight champion of the world; his opponents quite literally did not know what hit them.  He lost the title, went to prison for rape for three years, and later won the title back.  But not for long. as Wikipedia puts it: “Their 1997 rematch ended when Tyson was disqualified for biting part of Holyfield’s ear off.”

It can be said that Mike Tyson was his own worst enemy, and that a string of dramatic victories led him to take ever more dangerous risks.

By 2003 Mike Tyson was bankrupt.  Later he ended up doing product endorsements.  He has had second, third, and now fourth “acts.”

Mike Tyson was born in Brooklyn, he has been married three times, and in 2015 he announced that he is supporting Donald Trump for president.  There is even a direct link between the histories of the two men:

Tyson had fought some of his biggest bouts at Trump hotel-casinos, and Trump even bid a record \$11 million site fee for Tyson’s 1988 showdown with Michael Spinks, which at the time was the richest fight in boxing history. When Tyson was later convicted of the rape of 18-year-old Desiree Washington and sentenced to six years in prison, Trump proposed that Tyson should be allowed to keep fighting, with the proceeds from his bouts going to rape victims (and Trump, naturally). The arrangement would have greatly benefitted Trump’s casinos at a time when he was suffering financial woes, but officials deemed it inappropriate.

There is a 0.26 chance that Donald Trump is the Mike Tyson of politics, and he will voluntarily self-destruct in a way which will astonish us.  What does Tyson say about Trump?:

“We’re the same guy,” he continues. “A thrust for power, a drive for power. Whatever field we’re in, we need power in that field. That’s just who we are.”

Then, Tyson starts to lose me a bit. “Balls of energy. We’re not even who we think we are. We’re fire. We’re made of this crap—water, motion, dirt, diamonds, emeralds. We’re made out of that stuff, can you believe it?”

Trump, on his side, claims he once bet \$1 million against Tyson and for Evander Holyfield, receiving a lucrative payout.

But whose ear will Trump bite off, so to speak?  And which products will he end up endorsing?

I view the KKK fracas as raising the probability of Trump as Tyson, since I do not think it had potential upside for him.

Here are related remarks from Megan McArdle.  For a discussion of these points, and of Tyson, I thank Dan Klein.

## Elizabeth S. Eisenstein has passed away

She wrote the classic book The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, still worth reading.  Here is the NYT obituaryThe Washington Post obituary introduced me to another side of her life:

A year after retiring, Dr. Eisenstein achieved a different sort of professional peak, earning her first No. 1 ranking in tennis — as a member of the U.S. Tennis Association’s 65-and-over division.

Betty Eisenstein, as she was known on the court, played her first adult tournament in 1973, the year she turned 50. She lost — to International Tennis Hall of Fame member Dorothy “Dodo” Cheney — but quickly found her footing in a sport that she had played only briefly as a girl.

Dr. Eisenstein landed on the cover of Washington City Paper in 2005, under the headline “The Assassin.” Though 82 and standing only 5-foot-2, she was said to move “like a kid”: “She makes her opponent work so hard and hit so many extra shots that all the body blows eventually catch up to her,” the writer, Huan Hsu, said of her lethal drop shot.

## My conversation with Nate Silver

The video, podcast, and transcript are here.  Nate of course was excellent, here are just a few bits:

COWEN: What are the differences between forecasting and futurism, and do you have any predictions for the year 2050? They don’t have to be great. They just have to be better than the market. We’ll take a 52 percent prediction and go home and celebrate.

SILVER: I’m mildly pessimistic in some ways.

COWEN: What’s the biggest source of your pessimism?

SILVER: [laughs] There’s probably some survivorship bias in the United States, and thinking about how our way will persevere forever and ever and ever. We were talking backstage about how you go to Asia and I go to Asia — not as often as you. If you want to feel optimistic about civilization, then go there.

And:

COWEN: You’re a fan of baseball, and I’d like to ask you, of all the different baseball records, which is the one that is most impressive to you, or the most a statistical aberration, and try to stay a bit modern. We both know in 1889, Hoss Radbourn won 59 games.

Start with [Owen] Wilson’s — was it 36 triples in 1912? That, and up through the modern age. What’s the most statistically impressive baseball record, and why?

SILVER: I think the biggest outlier is the number of intentional walks that Barry Bonds drew. I forget what year it was, 2001, where he had like 161 intentional walks, and the next closest player is 50?

And:

COWEN: Singapore. Overrated or underrated?

SILVER: Underrated except by you.

There is of course much, much more, including remarks on the candidates and the elections, as well as My Bloody Valentine and more on sports too, prediction markets as well, the weather, and why so few professional athletes have come out as gay.  Recommended.

## What can finance learn from sports betting?

Tobias J. Moskowitz has a recent paper on this question, the results are illuminating:

I use sports betting markets as a laboratory to test behavioral theories of cross-sectional asset pricing anomalies. Two unique features of these markets provide a distinguishing test of behavioral theories: 1) the bets are completely idiosyncratic and therefore not confounded by rational theories; 2) the contracts have a known and short termination date where uncertainty is resolved that allows any mispricing to be detected. Analyzing more than a hundred thousand contracts spanning two decades across four major professional sports (NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL), I find momentum and value effects that move betting prices from the open to the close of betting, that are then completely reversed by the game outcome. These findings are consistent with delayed overreaction theories of asset pricing. In addition, a novel implication of overreaction uncovered in sports betting markets is shown to also predict momentum and value returns in financial markets. Finally, momentum and value effects in betting markets appear smaller than in financial markets and are not large enough to overcome trading costs, limiting the ability to arbitrage them away.

SSRN and video versions of the paper are here.  The underlying idea here is neat.  The marginal utility of consumption is unlikely to be correlated with the outcomes of sporting events, so we can test some propositions of finance theory without having to worry much about those risk factors.  Lo and behold, a version of momentum results still holds up.  And if you would like an exposition of that approach, do see my earlier dialogue with Cliff Asness.  And here is Cliff on Fama on momentum.

## Jose Canseco is tweeting BOJ negative interest rates

Bank of Japan should call them willie wonka bonds “YOU GET NOTHING. yOU LOSE!”

Who is advising Japan? Forcing banks to lend all ¥ will not get 2% inflation. It creates loanees market with even lower rates. Dumb move

Negative interest rates in Japan is blowing my mind

Here is his Twitter account, here is the Bloomberg story.  They promised us flying cars, and all we got was…

## My conversation with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Here is the video, the podcast, and the transcript.  Kareem really opened up.  Here is the summary:

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar joins Tyler Cowen for a conversation on segregation, Islam, Harlem vs. LA, Earl Manigault, jazz, fighting Bruce Lee, Kareem’s conservatism, dancing with Thelonious Monk, and why no one today can shoot a skyhook.

Maybe you think of Kareem as a basketball player, but here is my introduction:

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is one of America’s leading public intellectuals. I would describe him as an offshoot of the Harlem Renaissance, and what he and I share in common is a fascination with the character of Mycroft Holmes, the subject of Kareem’s latest book — and that of course, is Sherlock Holmes’s brother.

Here is Kareem:

I did know Amiri [Baraka]. I think the difference is I believe in what happened in Europe during what they call the Enlightenment. That needs to happen to black Americans, absolutely a type of enlightenment where they get a grasp of what is afflicting them and what the cures are.

I think that the American model is the best in the world but in order to get everybody involved in it we have to have it open to everyone. That hasn’t always been the case.

The most under-appreciated Miles Davis album?

For me [Kareem], the most under-appreciated one is Seven Steps to Heaven. And that shows, I think, Miles’ best group. There’s a big argument, what was Miles’ best group, the one that had Cannonball Adderley, Coltrane, Bill Evans, and Philly Joe Jones and Red Garland or Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams, and Wayne Shorter?…number two is Porgy and Bess.

He cites Chester Himes as the underappreciated figure of the Harlem Renaissance.  And Kareem thinks like an economist:

It [my instruction] was going well with Andrew Bynum, but Andrew finally got to sign his contract for \$50 million, and then at that point Andrew thought that I didn’t know anything and that he didn’t have to listen to me, and we don’t know where Andrew is right now.

Read or hear also his very interesting remarks on Islam, and where its next Enlightenment is likely to come from, not to mention Kareem on the resource curse and of course his new book (and my Straussian read of it).  And Kareem on his favorite movies, starting with The Maltese Falcon.  Self-recommending!

## Conversation with Kareem tomorrow is relocated

Robert Parrish could not much push him away from his preferred spots on the floor, but due to snow we are altering the venue:

New venue:

Westin Arlington Gateway, F. Scott Fitzgerald Ballroom (2nd floor), 801 North Glebe Road Arlington, VA

Tuesday, January 26, 2016, 3:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

At the event, you can participate in the conversation by tweeting your questions and comments using the hashtag #CowenKareem.

You can watch the event online at mercatus.org/live

## Why is it hard to measure the value of soccer players?

Max Mendez Beck emails me:

Given the advent of statistics in sports that occurred in the last five years, I am struck by how well soccer works as a metaphor for current epistemological debates regarding the use (and primacy) of quantitative versus qualitative data in social science research. While the three major American sports (football, basketball, and baseball) have been overtaken by a quantitative obsession (count how many tables and numbers you see on an average ESPN show), soccer is emblematic of a sport that is quite difficult to measure quantitatively.

Consider how easy it is to determine who did well in an average NBA game without needing to even watch it. You can just look at points, assists, rebounds, steals, turnovers, etc. In soccer, individual statistics are almost nonexistent. Even as major sports channels have attempted to incorporate quantitative measures into their soccer broadcasts–for example, by showing the number of kilometers a player has covered when he gets subbed out (a pretty uninformative statistic on its own)–these numbers have not caught on with the regular fan.

While in basketball everyone debates about who “the best ever” is by referring to their career averages in points, field goal percentage, PER, etc. In soccer the only statistic that is ever used is goals scores, and goals scored is only one small dimension of a player, even smaller if he is not a striker. It would be silly to judge Andrés Iniesta or Zinedine Zidane on how many goals they scored in a season.

So what is it about soccer that makes it so hard to quantify? Or what makes American sports so easy to measure? One obvious answer is the length of the units that can be easily separated and analyzed. In basketball its a maximum of 24 seconds, in baseball its essentially a pitch (or an at bat), and in football its each snap. For soccer, the only apparent unit to separate out is the 45 minute halftime mark. Changes in possession could be another measure, but even then a team’s single possession could be several minutes long.

However, the real challenge comes in measuring individual accomplishments. Just recently I was watching a Barcelona game and Iniesta clearly was having an amazing game (as was mentioned several times by the announcer), and yet the things that made him have a great game were only describable in words and not numbers. There was a beautiful and sudden “regate” or dribble around a defender before he passed it on to a teammate for a quick counter attack. There was the beautiful pass between defenders that led to an assist for the first goal. There was the sudden change in direction and over the top pass to the other side of the field that put the defenders on their heels. Many of these moves are incredibly situational; they have to do with the rhythm of the game and the need to speed it up or slow it down. Nothing in the boxscore could truly capture these attributes.

So the question is: Is soccer something that can’t be measured in numbers?

Here are various readings on the topic.

## What caught my attention in 2015

This was the year when it became clear that much of Eastern Europe probably won’t end up as free societies.  It’s not just semi-fascism in Hungary.  Poland and Slovakia, arguably the two most successful economies and societies in Eastern Europe, took big steps backward toward illiberal governance.  How can one be optimistic about the Balkans?  I imagine a future where African and North African refugees are bottled up there, and Balkan politics becomes slowly worse.  As for Ukraine, a mix of Russia and an “own goal” has made the place ungovernable.  Where is the bright spot in this part of the world?

Nothing good happened in China’s economy, although more fingers have been inserted into more dikes.  I am not hopeful on the cyclical side, though longer term I remain optimistic, due to their investments in human capital and the growing importance of scale.

I have grown accustomed to the idea that Asian mega-cities represent the future of the world — have you?

Syria won’t recover.

This was the year of the rise of Ted Cruz.

It was an awful year for movies, decent but unpredictable for books.  The idea that Facebook and social media rob the rest of our culture of its centrality, or its ability to find traction, is the default status quo.  Not even that idea has gained much traction.  Cable TV started to receive its financial comeuppance.  Yet on the aesthetic side, television is at an all-time peak, with lots of experimentation and independent content provision, all for the better.  I suspect this is one reason why movies are worse, namely brain drain, but I am hoping for longer-run elasticities of adjustment into the broader talent pool.

Against all odds, Homeland was excellent in its fifth season.

I became even more afraid to move my cursor around a web page, and in terms of content, more MSM sites became worse than better.  Banning photos would solve twenty percent of this problem.

Stephen Curry and Magnus Carlsen were the two (public) individuals I thought about the most and followed the most closely.  Each has a unique talent which no one had come close to before.  For Curry it is three point shooting at great range and with little warning; for Carlsen it is a deep understanding of the endgame as the true tactical phase of chess, and how to use the middlegame as prep to get there.  It wasn’t long ago Curry’s weapons were “trick” shots, perhaps suitable for the Harlem Globetrotters; similarly, players such as Aronian thought Carlsen’s “grind ’em down” style could not succeed at a top five level.  Everyone was wrong.

But here’s what I am wondering.  Standard theory claims that with a thicker market, the #2 talents, or for that matter the #5s, will move ever closer to the #1s.  That is not what we are seeing in basketball or chess.  So what feature of the problem is the standard model missing?  And how general is this phenomenon of a truly special #1 who breaks some of the old rules?  Does Mark Zuckerberg count too?

I realized Western China is the best part of the world to visit right now.  The food trends where I live were Filipino and Yemeni, which I found welcome.  Virginia now has a Uighur restaurant in Crystal City, and the aging San Antonio Spurs continue to defy all expectations.  Kobe Bryant, who “ranks among the league’s top 5 percent of shot-takers and its bottom 5 percent of shot-makers,” has redefined the retirement announcement, among other things.

## Golden State fact of the day

So far this season, [Stephen] Curry has made 74 threes — the most in the NBA. Damian Lillard ranks second, with 45. To say that Curry is an outlier would be an insult to the word outlier. So far this season, 84 percent of NBA threes have come off assists. But for Curry, that number is just 62 percent, and his ability to get his own deadly looks beyond the arc is arguably his signature weapon as a scorer. For context, only one of Klay Thompson’s 33 threes has been unassisted this season.

Here is more from Kirk Goldsberry at 538.  Here is a Curry highlights reel.  Here is the educational philosophy of Kevin Garnett.  And ESPN has lost seven million subscribers in the last two years, that is quite a bleed rate.  Meanwhile, last night Kobe Bryant was one for seventeen.

Happy Thanksgiving!

## Bill Simmons estimate of the day

The trouble with podcasts is that they are difficult to grow: while text can be shared and consumed quickly, a podcast requires a commitment (which again, is why advertising in them is so valuable). Simmons, though, by virtue of his previous writing, is already averaging over 400,000 downloads per episode.

Podcast rates are hard to come by, but I’m aware of a few podcasts a quarter the size that are earning somewhere in excess of \$10,000/episode; presuming proportionally similar rates (which may be unrealistic, given the broader audience) The Bill Simmons Podcast, which publishes three times a week, could be on a >\$6 million run rate, which, per my envelope math in the footnote above, could nearly pay for a 50-person staff a la Grantland.

Most of the article, by Ben Thompson, is about the economics of Grantland.