Strong opinions, weakly held

Tag: sports (page 3 of 4)

New York magazine interviews Nate Silver

New York magazine has an interview with Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com, this year’s go-to polling analysis site.

I’ve been reading Nate’s baseball analysis for years and was thrilled to see that he was applying his analytic approach to political polling this year. The results have not been disappointing. This paragraph describes my general reaction when I found out who was running fivethirtyeight.com:

Silver’s site now gets about 600,000 visits daily. And as more and more people started wondering who he was, in May, Silver decided to unmask himself. To most people, the fact that Poblano turned out to be a guy named Nate Silver meant nothing. But to anyone who follows baseball seriously, this was like finding out that a guy anonymously running a high-fashion Website turned out to be Howard Cosell. At his day job, Silver works for Baseball Prospectus, a loosely organized think tank that, in the last ten years, has revolutionized the interpretation of baseball stats. Furthermore, Silver himself invented a system called PECOTA, an algorithm for predicting future performance by baseball players and teams. (It stands for “player empirical comparison and optimization test algorithm,” but is named, with a wink, after the mediocre Kansas City Royals infielder Bill Pecota.) Baseball Prospectus has a reputation in sports-media circles for being unfailingly rigorous, occasionally arrogant, and almost always correct.

There are two things that I find interesting about this. The first is that I’ve been reading quantitative analysis of sports for years and wondering how the lessons drawn from that analysis can be applied to other fields. Silver’s work is illustrating just how applicable those lessons are, and I wasn’t surprised to read that he is being invited to speak before business audiences on his work.

The second is that it shows yet again how the secret to being a successful blogger is producing excellent content. Anyone who’s thinking about starting a blog should look at the success Silver has had. He started the year with a diary on the Daily Kos and now he runs a political blog that gets millions of views. Do great things, and the audience will be there.

The lesson for long-time bloggers with small (but wonderful) audiences is self-evident, sadly.

Sports statistics analysts take over the world

Somehow, Nate Silver’s political Web site escaped my notice until today. Silver is using the same techniques he and other used in building improved baseball statistics to analyze the performance of pollsters in 2008 elections, and to aggregate multiple polls into an accurate prediction of voter behavior.

The site provides a lot of interesting numbers, including the odds of various scenarios occurring, like “Obama wins all Kerry states” and “McCain loses OH/MI, wins election.” The site also provides return on investment rankings for the states, and the individual chance of the candidates winning each state.

The reason this post has the subject it does, though, is that it’s fun to watch sports analysis go mainstream. Sports analysis is a perfect training ground for statistical analysis because of the discrete raw statistics that can be used, and the fact that predictions can very easily be compared to actual results.

Most sports analysis comes down to a simple question, “Which things help teams win?” So if I’m a football analyst, I may argue that average time of possession better predicts winning than average margin of victory. I can then process the historical data for as many seasons of football as I like and test that argument. It doesn’t matter how beautiful my theory is, the data will quickly show whether I’m right or wrong.

It’s not surprising to me to see people who have cut their teeth in the world of sports analysis start applying their methods to other areas. The numbers may be different, but the discipline is the same. Silver is doing with polling numbers and election results what he did before with batting averages and baseball games.

If nothing else, it makes me feel like all of the time I’ve spent reading about quantitative analysis of sports hasn’t been a total waste.

If you’re into this sort of analysis, there’s also the Princeton Election Consortium, which posted a mild critique of Silver’s methodology. And for a more naive analysis that just looks at the latest poll result for each state, see electoral-vote.com.

Winning process

Paul DePodesta is a baseball guy who was made famous in Michael Lewis’ book Moneyball. At the time of the writing he was the assistant to A’s general manager Billy Beane, and then went on to serve as general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Now he works in the front office for the San Diego Padres. On his blog, he writes about the basics of building a successful team. The key is to focus on process rather than outcome:

We all want to be in the upper left box – deserved success resulting from a good process. This is generally where the casino lives. I’d like to think that this is where the Oakland A’s and San Diego Padres have been during the regular seasons. The box in the upper right, however, is the tough reality we all face in industries that are dominated by uncertainty. A good process can lead to a bad outcome in the real world. In fact, it happens all the time. This is what happened to the casino when a player hit on 17 and won. I’d like to think this is what happened to the A’s and Padres during the post-seasons. 🙂

As tough as a good process/bad outcome combination is, nothing compares to the bottom left: bad process/good outcome. This is the wolf in sheep’s clothing that allows for one-time success but almost always cripples any chance of sustained success – the player hitting on 17 and getting a four. Here’s the rub: it’s incredibly difficult to look in the mirror after a victory, any victory, and admit that you were lucky.

The whole article is well worth reading.

John Royal’s obituary for Jim McKay

Houston blogger John Royal writes an obituary for sportscaster Jim McKay. It seems silly to let someone who was truly great at what they did pass without notice. It’s odd to think that humanity will never again witness the birth of the electronic mass media, and the iconic figures who set the standards for that medium will hold a sort of unique historic position. As Royal points out, McKay is one of the last few of a generation that will be much missed.

HBO is going to re-air its 2003 McKay documentary on Thursday and Sunday, watch it if you get a chance.

Links for April 13

Links for April 9

Links for April 8

Links for April 2nd

Links for March 25

Links from March 13th

Older posts Newer posts

© 2024 rc3.org

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑