November 8, 2007

Bradman still the best

Cricket has lagged behind baseball in generating more sophisticated measures of players contributions to the game that incorporate variance and conditional measures of performance. This research from the University of Queensland is a step in the right direction:

Batsmen in cricket are invariably ranked according to their batting average. Such a ranking suffers from two defects. First, it does not take into account the consistency of scores across innings: a batsman might have a high career average but with low scores interspersed with high scores; another might have a lower average but with much less variation in his scores. Second, it pays no attention to the “value? of the player’s runs to the team: arguably, a century, when the total score is 600, has less value compared to a half-century in an innings total of, say, 200. The purpose of this paper is to suggest new ways of computing batting averages which, by addressing these deficiencies, complement the existing method and present a more complete picture of batsmen’s performance. Based on these “new? averages, the paper offers a “new? ranking of the top 50 batsmen in the history of Test Cricket.


Posted by eroberts at 4:58 PM

April 25, 2007

Important sporting news

hat tip to Cathy for seeing this important news ...

Posted by eroberts at 6:33 AM

April 20, 2007

Game, interrupted

I heard the following on Marketplace from a guy called Ed Derse who's supposedly a sports business analyst:

[Hockey is] a little bit too stop-start. If they make it more fluid, I think it will be better.

in the context of discussing why [ice]-hockey is losing out to other sports.

Now, maybe hockey's slowed down since the olden days, but has Ed Derse seen the other sports that appear on American TV? Football is the world's slowest sport. Basketball goes quickly until you get to the final 10 minutes and then it's like football. All breaks, all the time. They don't dawdle around in baseball, but it ain't continuous. I can't buy the argument that people don't watch hockey because it's stop-start when Americans have a demonstrable appetite for sports that are even more interrupted.

Posted by eroberts at 10:11 AM

April 18, 2007

Hapless cricket teams

Sports that do poorly in cricket are often called "hapless." My hypothesis was that this would be mostly associated with the English cricket team. In the interests of the social studies of sport I did a Google search of +"hapless <country>" +cricket today and these were the results. I think they speak for themselves ... or they speak for themselves, if you follow international cricket ... Crucial qualification. Might I remind my American readers, cricket's about as popular as baseball worldwide, and they both look funny and have funny rules.

No doubt more sophisticated "analyses" could be done, perhaps adjusting for the population speaking English in each country. Now while it's a little surprising to see Bangladesh and Zimbabwe getting more "hapless" mentions than England, those countries have better excuses than England for not fielding a good cricket team. I threw Canada--yes, they were playing in the World Cup--into the mix as a "control" group.

Posted by eroberts at 2:45 PM

May 19, 2006

Ooh Ah Umaga and other foreign sports chants

The Hurricanes—Wellington's Super 14 rugby team—make the final for the first time.

Now to call the Irish bars and see if they'll be showing it. Unlikely, since the Irish bars in the Twin Cities seem unauthentic and never seem to show rugby on the big screen.

Posted by eroberts at 7:28 AM

April 29, 2006

Cricket is a batter's game, but ...

... what are they doing to the pitches in South Africa? 430 plus runs each in a one day match. And now New Zealand gets 593 for 8 in the second test match. New Zealand may have lost the first test, but it looked like a good match, with some contest between batter and bowler.

Posted by robe0419 at 7:08 AM

March 12, 2006

Scores that won't mean much to some of you

South Africa scored 438 for 9 to beat Australia's 434 for 4 in a one-day cricket match.

Baseball lacks the same drama of the chase as cricket, and the truly great baseball purist's games are the ones dominated by pitchers, but I'll try to translate the significance of a score like this. It's like having two opposing pitchers throw nearly perfect games, and then the game comes down to whether an out of form player can get an RBI from a full count on the last at-bat. Or if you prefer home run duels, this is like a game with several grand slams that is all tied up at the bottom of the 9th, and only won on the last at-bat. In other words, you'd be saying something stronger than "holy smoke" after watching a game like that ...

Posted by robe0419 at 4:11 PM

October 24, 2005

On America's pastime

A couple of quick thoughts on the World Series.

(1) Instant replays don't solve all problems. They've had them in cricket for years, decades, since the last century, and there are still many occasions when the benefit of the doubt has to go to the batter. When in doubt, not out. This isn't to say that instant replays are a bad idea, they're probably a good one, unless you hold to some romantic notion that sports should never adopt new technology. But just so we all have our expectations in the right place. Americans place a lot of faith in technology resolving social problems. Sometimes that is misplaced faith.

(2) Salon also links to these nifty state-by-state poll results showing people's responses to the question, "Which team will win the World Series?" Now, I think it's interesting that in Minnesota and the Dakotas, Ohio, and Kansas—the home of three of four of the White Sox' Central division rivals—predict relatively strongly that the Astros will win. Whereas in Missouri, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania—the home of three of five of the Astro's Central division rivals—there is strong support for the White Sox to win the World Series. Kentucky and West Virginia, close to the Cincinnati Reds also in the Central Division, also pick the White Sox, if only narrowly. Illinois, of course, plumps 70 to 30 in predicting the White Sox will win.

My point is that there seems to be some evidence that a lot of people may be responding to a slightly different question, and picking that their divisional rivals will lose.

I think this is nuts. It looks way better for the Twins' season if the White Sox win, because then the Twins lost to the champion. If the Astros win, then you have to say that the Twins lost to the losing team in the World Series. Much better to console yourself with the thought that your team lost to the World Champions.

Posted by robe0419 at 5:32 PM

September 12, 2005

Not since I was a boy ...

England have won the Ashes for the first time since 1989.

The Ashes (amateur fan site here, wikipedia here) are the regular series of test [international, five day long] cricket matches between England and Australia.

By way of keeping my mostly American readers up with the old Empire, take my word that this is a major, major sporting and cultural event. It's probably not quite up there with the Miracle on Ice as far as the international-political overtones of the contest, but cricket—unlike ice hockey—is a sport with long-term, nation-wide popularity in both countries.

Baseball, sadly, lacks these emotional international contests—making up for it with passionate urban rivalries—so there's no good comparison there. At least in Australia, cricket is the national game, as the football codes are fragmented regionally. (Another topic entirely).

Posted by robe0419 at 2:45 PM

May 7, 2005

World gone wrong?

Baltimore leading the AL East?
Toronto in 3rd and the Yankees in 4th?
Chicago with the best record in the American League?

Is the Mississippi flowing backwards as well?

Posted by robe0419 at 3:05 PM

January 14, 2005


Could you say that with more feeling?

I would only add the observation that sports in which the majority of the people watch and do not participate tend to beget both fans who encourage such behavior and players that will respond to such encouragement.

Posted by robe0419 at 10:39 AM

December 10, 2004

Sounds pretty bad

Gophers: Athletes 11th in Big Ten graduation

As if ranking last wasn't bad enough, the headline makes it sound like the Gophers' graduation rate is so bad it's off the charts.

Posted by robe0419 at 1:43 PM

October 24, 2004


A couple of thoughts on the first World Series game;

  • Keith Foulke. Good pitcher. Got the good job done in the last couple of games. But all the plaudits he gets from the Fox commentary team? I don't think so. Foulke is no Rivera. (Though now Rivera is no Rivera). Foulke gives up too many walks, and in both Game 7 of the ALCS and Game 1 of the World Series there were a few too many moments when the game could have gone the other way, or into extra innings.
  • 15 years ago the fat guy who could hit the ball was still a fixture in cricket. Nowadays with the emphasis on running and fielding the fat guy has either slimmed down or not made it to the professional ranks. Not in baseball. Watching someone like Matthew LeCroy or David Ortiz waddle down the first base line when he hits a single is still a sight to behold. Perhaps the sabermetrics crew will find some way to correlate tubbiness with not getting on base enough and the fat lady will sing for the fat guy in baseball too.

Posted by robe0419 at 5:26 PM

October 21, 2004

A week is a long time in baseball

A week ago (a week ago!) I wrote: "On the baseball front, we're getting further away every evening from the possiblity of a Houston-Boston World Series. We might have to wait for the World Series and the Presidential election to feature contenders from the same pair of states."

Now we're just 27 outs away from that!

Posted by robe0419 at 2:53 PM

October 7, 2004

enough with the averages, how about the variance?

Most competitive sports -- baseball and cricket being the archetypes -- generate a lot of statistics. Most of them are averages, and very rarely, measures of variability. But it's in the variability that games turn and hard decisions have to be made. That's as true for the coach on the sidelines as for fantasy whatever-ball.

Sticking with baseball and cricket for the moment, some of these numbers are statistics only in the broadest sense, and have little meaning. If you've ever watched cricket, you'll be familiar with phrases from the commentators like "this is a record partnership for the tenth wicket in the second innings between these two countries played in country X."

Translated into baseball commentary: "this is the first time any player from team X has scored a triple in the bottom of the ninth with two out when playing team Y on the road."

Pretty impressive, huh ... Since lifetime bests, team bests, and all-time bests are really quite rare, both baseball and cricket commentators regularly resort to inflating the value of average play by making it the best of all-time in some highly specific context.

I've always been curious who keeps these statistics, and how it's done. Do they have a database at their fingers, so they can calculate these rarities at will? Or do you actually have to remember stuff like that to get on TV? The phrase idiot savant comes to mind.

But these aren't really statistics, they're records.

What you hear a lot of in both sports are references to averages; averages at bat, and the average cost in runs for a pitcher/bowler to get someone out.

And if you're only going to know one number about a player, an average [of some form] is probably the most useful.

What's curious is that we don't hear so much about the variation in players' performances. Stick with me through the next cricket example, because this really does apply to other sports.

In cricket, a batting average of over 30 in international matches is pretty good, over 40 is exceptional, and anything over 50 makes you a legend (get up towards 100 and you will have statues and knighthoods).

But who would you rather have on your team, a guy that gets scores of 9, 0, 105, 1, 4, 97 ... or a guy that racks up 35, 29, 46, 27, 51, 18 ... Probably the second guy.

The analogy to earned run averages in baseball and points per game in basketball should be pretty straightforward.

In fact, the way variation comes out in sports is when people talk about a player's "consistency." There's few sports that don't value consistency, but it's only when a player is truly, maddeningly inconsistent that commentators and journalists bother to make the comparisons.

Cross country team meets, interestingly or trivially, often report the 'packing analysis' or the 'spread' for a team. But this is the only sport I can think of, where some measure of variability is reported. Perhaps there's others.

Look at the individual stats pages for baseball, basketball, or football. All averages. No variation there.

But in the final minutes of the game, who are you going to put out there? The guy that has the lower average, but rarely gets nothing; or the guy that can give you a huge win, but might also fail completely ... Depends how far behind you are really.

Clearly, newspapers are restricted in the amount of stuff they can publish. But the web ... the web has no such restrictions on space. And with sports betting a growing market, it's stranger still we don't hear more specific discussion of consistency and variability in performance.

For now, though, I have a day job and a dissertation that preclude making these calculations myself, and all I can ask is that anyone who uses this thought to win a fantasy football league or sports betting ring, send me some of their winnings.

Posted by robe0419 at 2:11 PM