Roundup 10/28/11

Is the modern spread option really just the single wing?

Nine obscure rules in sports.

A review of the Wolfe ratings, one of the inputs to the BCS rankings.

" that's a thing anymore."

Being proven wrong is good.

I generally like the Freakonomics guys, but there are so many things wrong with this little video essay, I don't even know where to begin. I was thinking of having a contest to see who could list the most false assumptions, fallacies, and non-sequiturs. That said, I agree with the conclusion.
Here's another Freakonomics video on icing the kicker.

A summary of a recent study on momentum in baseball.

The best statistics question ever.

Strange correlations between running and passing performance. Seems like it would be sample error to me. One or two big plays or broken plays can easily throw things off for any single game.

A neat commentary on how the Patriots use pre-snap motion to read defenses.

Aaron Rodgers is having an all-time great season.

Intagibles are like diamonds.

An algorithm to predict the college polls.

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9 Responses to “Roundup 10/28/11”

  1. Phil Birnbaum says:

    The "nine obscure rules in sports" link doesn't work for me.

  2. JMM says:

    Some thoughts on momentum:

    Since there is no operational definition of momentum in a football context it can never be proven or disproved.

    All plays in a game are not the same. What happened in a previous play does inform the actions of later plays. Some times coaches learn trends, sometimes players get injured, sometimes players recognize the amount of effort they make won't change the game outcome and they don't push as hard.

    I look at the game probability graphs at the end of the weekend and do notice that many times there are long runs of either positive or negative slope sections that transcend several possessions. I wonder if these sections correspond to a feeling of momentum.

  3. Mike B says:

    I've read Freakonomics and followed their blog for some time. But their work on NFL-related topics is leading me to treat anything they write with some skepticism.

    Here's the most egregious example:

  4. Tom says:

    It is incredible that American sport has this obsession with invoking the imaginary. No other part of the world calls any part of a sportsman's game intangible. Anything that can be noticed is, by definition, tangible, and as such if a player performs in a certain way, acts in a certain way, it is tangible.
    In all sports there are those players whose work ethic is better than others, whose attitude is superior, who care more for the team than the pay-cheque, but these things are visible, they are known to those that work with the players, they are not some sort of magicality that we just cannot place our digits upon.
    I mean to cause no offence when I say that this is only prominent in American sports, it is simply an observation, and considering that the analysis of sport by the layman in America is far beyond that in, for instance, the UK where I reside, I find it odd that such obvious fallacies as intangibles still fill the mouths of those people whose favourite sports are so well documented.

  5. Phil Birnbaum says:

    This might be the nine obscure rules:

  6. chrisb says:


    I agree that I'd like to see a definition for 'momentum', but I'm not sure it needs to be operational; surely I can in some sense test the room to see if there is a table in it, yet I don't think I can offer such a definition of 'table'. At the very least, I have a pretty idea of what would and wouldn't be evidence for confirmation of the hypothesis.

    I take it that momentum is supposed to be something akin to having a hot hand in basketball. And I take it that the idea behind the hot hand is that if I have it, I am more likely to make my next shot (maybe significantly so) than my overall average. This has been tested ( and it doesn't appear to have turned out well for the hot hand theory.

    Momentum, of the kind discussed in the clip, would be slightly different than the hot hand since it is an attribute of teams, not individual players (e.g. the Bills had the momentum). However, it still would primarily consist in having a higher probability of success than normal averages would dictate. This is something that can be tested (or at least that we may find evidence for or against) if we can find appropriate candidates for having momentum.

    I do think that it may be trickier with momentum due to the fact that there may be many effects of say completing four passes in a row. One would be that you are probably closer to the opposing teams endzone than you are on any given play. I take it this was one of Brian's problem's with the stats from the clip. However, even if we ignore this, you probably have, if you are at home, fired up the crowd. And if you are on the road, maybe you have quited them. This may have some non-negligible effect on the next play (maybe not), but if it does, is this part of momentum? Or instead should momentum be some intrinsic property possessed by the team as a whole independently of any effects the successful plays may have had on the crowd, other team, etc...?

  7. Jeff Clarke says:

    The momentum video was f-ing ridiculous. I lost a lot of respect for the Freakanomics guys right there.

    They did not control for starting field position. If they did, they would see that long punts or kicks did not make that much of a difference. Come to think of it, if a team is in the red zone, isn't it pretty much a given that they have "momentum". I mean either they got the ball through a turnover or they moved it there.

    It is pretty easy to test for momentum. Just look at WPA for every play and see if its different the play after considerably +WPA plays. Its not.

    I also think its hilarious that they used an example of one game from 20 years ago. You wouldn't have to dig back to the original Bush administration if momentum was as common as implied.

    I agree with the conclusion but they sure used some specious arguments to generate fake controversy.

  8. JMM says:


    Did you mean the room with the nightstand or the room with the desk?

    Without clear and agreed to definitions its all discussions over beer with no possible resolution.

  9. chrisb says:


    What's wrong with pizza and beer? Luckily for me I chose philosophy and logical positivism was (for the most part) declared dead years back. Anyway, I take your question to help make my point (I think). We can't define our ordinary notion of 'table' in a clear fashion, but that doesn't mean that one can't come to know that there is or isn't a table in the room, say via sense perception. I do agree though that when possible, clear and agreed to definitions certainly help eliminate confusion.

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