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Archive of posts filed under the Sports category.

A new hot hand paradox

1. Effect sizes of just about everything are overestimated. Selection on statistical significance, motivation to find big effects to support favorite theories, researcher degrees of freedom, looking under the lamp-post, and various other biases. The Edlin factor is usually less than 1. (See here for a recent example.) 2. For the hot hand, it’s the […]

What happens to the median voter when the electoral median is at 52/48 rather than 50/50?

Here’s a political science research project for you. Joe Biden got about 52 or 53% of the two-party vote, which was enough for him to get a pretty close win in the electoral college. As we’ve discussed, 52-48 is a close win by historical or international standards but a reasonably big win in the context […]

My theory of why TV sports have become less popular

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about declining viewership for TV sports. Below I’ll link to a news article discussing various possible explanations, but first I want to share my theory, which is that we’re watching less sports because we’re talking about sports less, and we’re talking about sports less because we’re mixing with […]

Bill James is back

I checked Bill James Online the other day and it’s full of baseball articles! I guess now that he’s retired from the Red Sox, he’s free to share his baseball thoughts to all. Cool! He has 8 posts in the past week or so, which is pretty impressive given that each post has some mixture […]

Why we kept the trig in golf: Mathematical simplicity is not always the same as conceptual simplicity

Someone read the golf example and asked: You define the threshold angle as arcsin((R – r)/x), but shouldn’t it be arctan((R – r)/x) instead? Is it just that it does not matter with these small angles, where sine and tangent are about the same, or am I missing something? My reply: This sin vs tan […]

53 fever!

One thing statisticians love is a story about people acting foolish around probability . . . Paul Alper points us to this news article by David Robson: Fifteen years ago, the people of Italy experienced a strange kind of mass hysteria known as “53 fever”. The madness centred on the country’s lottery. Players can choose […]

The U.S. high school math olympiad champions of the 1970s and 1980s: Where were they then?

George Berzsenyi writes: Here is the last issue of the USAMO [math olympiad] Newsletter that was edited by Nura Turner and Tsz-Mei Ko along with a couple of additional summaries about the IMO participants. Concerning the Newsletter, I [Berzsenyi] just learned from Tsz-Mei Ko that it was the last issue. At the time, I really […]

The history of low-hanging intellectual fruit

Alex Tabarrok asks, why was the game Dungeons and Dragons, or something like it, not invented in ancient Rome? He argues that the ancient Romans had the technology (that would be dice, I guess) so why didn’t someone thing of inventing a random-number-driven role-playing game? I don’t have an answer, but I think we can […]

Two good news articles on trends in baseball analytics

Mark Brown pointed me to two recent popular articles on sports analytics: 1. The New Science of Building Baseball Superstars: review by Jack Hamilton of “The MVP Machine: How Baseball’s New Nonconformists Are Using Data to Build Better Players,” by Ben Lindbergh and Travis Sawchick. This all seems very reasonable to me. 2. If baseball […]

Some of you must have an idea of the answer to this one.

Suppose I play EJ in chess—I think his rating is something like 2300 and mine is maybe, I dunno, 1400? Anyway, we play, and my only goal is for the games to last as many moves as possible, and EJ’s goal is to checkmate me in the minimal number of moves. Say I have to […]


Somebody points me to this by Benjamin Morris. I haven’t read this so I have no idea, but it does seem to have a lot of statistics! The one part I’m suspicious of item 3(c), where he says, “The statistical community over-values Margin of Victory and under-values raw winning percentages.” As I wrote a few […]

The Road Back

Paul Kedrosky points us to this news article by Liam Mannix, “Cold water poured on scientific studies based on ‘statistical cult.’” Here’s what I wrote about this when it came up last year: The whole thing seems pretty pointless to me. I agree with Kristin Sainani that the paper on MBI does not make sense. […]

Which teams have fewer fans than their namesake? I pretty much like this person’s reasoning except when we get to the chargers and raiders.

Someone pointed me to this delightful collection of short statistical analyses: In the Chicago Bears roast thread, 69memelordharambe420 posted “There are more Bears than Bears fans.” That got me [the author of this post] thinking: Is that true? And more generally, which teams have fewer fans than there exist whatever they’re named after? To start, […]

Top 5 literary descriptions of poker

Yesterday I wrote about Pocket Kings by Ted Heller, which gives one of the most convincing literary descriptions of poker that I’ve ever read. (Much more so than all those books and articles where the author goes on expense account to compete at the World Series of Poker. I hope to never see that again.) […]

Pocket Kings by Ted Heller

So. I’m most of the way through Pocket Kings by Ted Heller, author of the classic Slab Rat. And I keep thinking: Ted Heller is the same as Sam Lipsyte. Do these two guys know each other? They’re both sons of famous writers (OK, Heller’s dad is more famous than Lipsyte’s, but still). They write […]


We’ve been talking a lot about football lately. I just wrote a football-themed post. It will appear in two weeks, that is, the morning of 26 Jan. Please send an appropriate picture of your cat and I can append it to the post? Thank you.

Field goal kicking—like putting in 3D with oblong balls

Putting Andrew Gelman (the author of most posts on this blog, but not this one), recently published a Stan case study on golf putting [link fixed] that uses a bit of geometry to build a regression-type model based on angles and force. Field-goal kicking In American football, there’s also a play called a “field goal.” […]

The hot hand and playing hurt

So, was chatting with someone the other day and it came up that I sometimes do sports statistics, and he told me how he read that someone did some research finding that the hot hand in basketball isn’t real . . . I replied that the hot hand is real, and I recommended he google […]

Padres need Stan

Cody Zupnick writes: I’m working in baseball research for the San Diego Padres, and we’re looking for new people, potentially with Stan experience. Would you mind seeing if any of your readers have any interest? Cool!

Golf example now a Stan case study!

It’s here! (and here’s the page with all the Stan case studies). In this case study, I’m following up on two earlier posts, here and here, which in turn follow up this 2002 paper with Deb Nolan. My Stan case study is an adaptation of a model fit by Columbia business school professor and golf […]