Monthly Archives: August 2012

Adrian the Canadian: What’s wrong with the BCS and its successor?

I’ve made my thoughts about the BCS abundantly clear, so on the eve of the college football kickoff, I’ll let Adrian the Canadian give you a more well-reasoned critique of both the old/current system and the new one:

In case you missed it while focusing on the Olympics, Euro 2012, or MLB’s new double wild card chase,  college football’s bigwigs announced that, finally, there will be a playoff in D-I, sorry, FBS college football (starting in 2014). For those interested in the details, here’s Andy Staples. In short, it’s a four team playoff with the four teams selected by the ubiquitous “selection committee.” Now, despite what I’m about to argue, I think this is an improvement over the previous system which was corrupt, illegitimate, and, ultimately, kind of dull.  Still this system fails to identify and address the real issue with college football’s championship. The problem is not that college football does a bad job of identifying and rewarding the “best” team — it arguably does that with more frequency and reliability than any other sport in America — it’s that college football does little crown a legitimate champion. Indeed, what we want from our sports in not a system that determines the best team but one that gives us a legitimate result at the end of the season. The new college football model fails to do that.

As I’m sure Tyler will tell you, the best way to figure out a league’s “best” team is to have a sufficiently connected round-robin style tournament with a large number of rounds. In plain English, have everybody play everybody else lots. Such a system minimizes luck, randomness, and fluctuations in performance, leaving us with a relatively clear idea of who the “best” team is. Most domestic European soccer leagues follow this model, as did baseball prior to the advent of playoffs. This model doesn’t work for American football for an obvious reason: the sport is too physically taxing to play enough games. And yet, college football is pretty adept at determining who the “best” team is in any given year. Compare to the NFL: surely Alabama has a better claim to being the “best” college football team than the New York Giants do to being the best “pro-football” team. Tyler can do the analysis, but I’m willing to bet that the BCS champion correlates much more highly than the Super Bowl champion to statistical measures of team quality. However, no one complains about the Super Bowl champion or demands that the NFL change its playoff system.

The reason for this is simple; we sports fans don’t want a playoff system that determines the “best” team. What we want is a system that crowns a legitimate champion. Let’s look Continue reading

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Billy Hamilton: faster than the optimal path

Cincinnati Reds minor leaguer Billy Hamilton is making noise with his speed – he set the minor league steals record on Tuesday, surpassing Vince Coleman’s 145 (though Coleman did it in fewer games). Hamilton was on my radar for the Portland Peskies awhile ago, after he clocked a 13.8 second in the park home run. In case you’ve forgotten, the Peskies are a hypothetical team built on undervalued baseball skills: speed, bunting, defense, and even knuckleball pitching. I’m convinced that you could build a decent baseball team for very little money by focusing on these skills.

Upon seeing Hamilton’s in the park home run time, I immediately started the mental math: 360 feet is about 110 meters, but you need to bow out to turn the corners, so maybe 120-130 meters is a good guess. The world record for the 100 meter dash is about 9.6 seconds, so a world class sprinter could do that distance in about 11.5 to 12.5 seconds — in a straight line.

But those corners complicate things. They slow you down, which makes it difficult to determine the optimal path. At one extreme, you could minimize the distance by running directly to each base and cutting hard. This is surely not the fastest way. At the other extreme, you can draw out the circle that touches each base. Again, surely not the fastest, since you don’t have to make a turn at home plate.

So, what’s the optimal path? A couple of math professors worked with a student at Williams College* to try to figure it out. The path they end up with has the batter bow out at a 25 degree angle, swing even wider than the circle from first to third, and aim for home on a relatively straight line. This path is far wider than most batters run.

Not a bad effort, but I’m not buying it. In order to prove Continue reading

Shutting down Strasburg: the dumbest move in sports history?

Most baseball fans already know — the Nationals are in first place in the NL East, but they’re going to shut down ace Stephen Strasburg after 180 innings to protect his young arm. Strasburg had Tommy John surgery two years ago, and the Nationals aren’t taking any chances. I don’t necessarily think he should go over 180 innings (I’m no doctor), but why are the Nationals doing it this way? He’s going to hit doomsday just before the season finishes and the playoffs begin. Sorry fans, sorry players, your first place team is going to be shorthanded when it counts.

In a similar situation, the White Sox have found ways to give Chris Sale extra rest throughout the season. Why not do that or even use a six man rotation? GM Mike Rizzo has favored a regular schedule for Strasburg on the advice of various medical experts. A six man rotation would be pretty regular. I’m not the first to suggest this — I just want to highlight how dumb this decision was. The Nationals have never been to the playoffs! They might miss their shot at a World Series because of this.

In celebration of the Nationals strategy, poll your friends/office mates and share the dumbest sports decision(s) that you can think of in the comments below. “Trading Babe Ruth” is a good start but not very original.