Sunday, October 04, 2009

Sunday sports blogging 

From the blogroll...

[] Wages of Wins confidently predicts that come this next NBA season the New York Knicks will suck again. But I don't care anymore.

Yes, as a kid I was a big fan of the Knicks, who under coach Red Holzman won championships with what had to be the smartest team ever, in any pro sport, period. The starting five ...

* Center -- future NBA coach and general manager Willis Reed.
* Small forward -- Rhodes scholar and future US Senator, Bill Bradley.
* Power forward -- already a past NBA player-coach (at age 24!) and a future NBA general manager and pro league Commissioner, Dave DeBusschere.
* Shooting guard -- on his way to a PhD, Dick Barnett.
* Point guard -- "the dummy" who ran the team, four-time all-star Walt Frazier.

While the top reserves were future Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson, Rhodes scholar and future Congressman Tom McMillen, and aging Hall of Fame forward Jerry Lucas, who for fun used to show off to locker room visitors by memorizing pages out of the phone book.

They weren't the biggest team, the fastest or most physical, but boy did they know how to win with brains. My young self thought: "Wow, basketball is the thinking fan's game, and I'm a fan for life!" Little did I know.

By the end of the Isiah era (the "great extinction" of sentient basketball) the team had set not only all-time records for most losing per million dollars of mega-payroll, but had to have driven the franchise into IQ net negative numbers totalled up over its history. And as to being a fan ... I was cured.

[] You think the NFL isn't making enough money? (With the Dallas Cowboys charging fans up to $150,000 just for a license to buy a ticket -- cost of the ticket extra!)

Well, it's trying to make itself able to charge everyone (fans, broadcasters, vendors) even more via exempting itself from anti-trust rules, by getting itself and its 32 component teams to be treated as a single entity. The case American Needle v. NFL is now heading to the US Supreme Court. The Sports Economist has details you won't find in newspaper and ESPN reports, including a link to the legal brief filed by leading sports economists with the Supreme Court analyzing the issues. Read, football fans ... and hold on to your wallets.

[] Advanced NFL Stats has an extended "4th down study" revealing in as much detail as you can want exactly when teams should "go for it", punt, or try a field goal, and why. (And also showing that pro coaches are chicken weenies on 4th down, much too conservative -- although not without reason, as when they do correctly "go for it" and unfortunately fail to get it, they are highly prone to become the target of a media-fan lynch mob. Ask Jim Zorn.)

[] Sabrenomics points to the puzzle that we human beings are consistently overconfident in our abilities and opinions, yet "never learn" from our inevitable mistakes that result, however disastrous -- just as if there is some evolutionary advantage to having bad judgment about ourselves.

And, according to new research, in a world of uncertain risks, there is!

[] Pro Football has launched a great search engine that lets you get practically anything you can want (or can imagine) from its huge data base of game logs and statistics going back to the 1920s. Do you want to know what quarterback has thrown the most "comeback" touchdown passes in the fourth quarter when trailing by 7 points or less? (Nope, John Elway isn't even close.) What cornerback had the most interceptions by his 25th birthday? Now you can.

[] Should professional economists who dabble in sports analysis on the side instead leave it to amateurs who take it really seriously? Steven Levitt, winner of the Clark Medal (the highest award for US economists after the Nobel) and of Freakonomics fame, publishes a paper of baseball analysis that draws a polite "tut-tut" from the Sabermetric Research blog -- and a smackdown in the comments...
To the extent economists aren't willing to consult with amateurs, I'd give a second piece of advice: if your research uncovers very large efficiency failures -- like, a pitcher can increase his income by about $6 million a year by throwing fewer fastballs -- then you should reexamine your assumptions and methods. Because there's virtually no chance you are right.