Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Author: rob (page 1 of 37)

Sport Geek #78: worst 20s, Venus rising, a breakdown breakdown

WIMBLEDON

It’s on, Murray is out, and there’s lots to talk about. What can we do about retirements? Here’s a good run down of all the options – and which might be least bad. Of all the 30-year-olds still at the top, the resurgence of Venus Williams is perhaps the most remarkable.

During the Nadal-Muller match, my wife remarked that it was surely a big advantage for Muller to be serving first in that marathon 5th set. So is it? Apparently not. Although that analysis is a few years old, it won’t have changed much. And lastly, does the Wimbledon seeding system work?

FOOTBALL

So how does a football transfer really work? Key feature: WhatsApp.

The worst 20 seconds of football ever? As several people pointed out, it’s hard to tell who’s actually attacking…

RUGBY

A fantastic anatomy of a rugby turnover – if you will, the breakdown of a breakdown – all the bits that lead up to it. The English isn’t perfect, but stick with it.

OLYMPICS

Why any city wants to host the Games is beyond me. Of course, dictators are usually up for it, but Paris and LA? They hardly need the exposure. Here we go again. This sums up many feelings.

BASEBALL

People really care how far home runs go. I don’t get why – it’s a home run, just enjoy it. Anyway, the stadium kinda gets in the way, leading to lots of clever maths.

CRICKET

T20 and data. T20 and data! Nerd heaven. And lastly, why are there so many South African cricketers in England?

Sport Geek #77: 15 from 1, 700th in the world, and nothingness

Good afternoon sports fans.

RUGBY / LIONS

As the Lions prepare for the second test, the greatest challenge in world rugby since last week, here are two questions to ponder. One, should the Lions pick 15 players from one team (via Economist)? In terms of results, it might be better; in terms of ethos, I say – what’s the point? The other is why the All Blacks are so good. The FT has a stab at answering.

GENDER TENNIS

Was McEnroe right to say that Serena would only be around 700 in the world on the men’s tour? To my mind, it’s a non-starter. Comparing across the sexes is pointless, and only gets people unnecessarily annoyed. Anyway, Vox has a good explainer here.

NFL ECONOMICS

How much is a quarterback really worth? Nobody actually knows, even with Derek Carr’s contract. Here’s a great rundown via the Ringer.

BASEBALL AND THE ABSENCE OF ACTION

What happens to a sport when nothing happens? Sports Illustrated gets existential.

BOXING

Remember when Mike Tyson took a chunk out of Evander Holyfield’s ear? the Guardian goes back in time.

Cheers

Sport Geek #76: meta-doc; clay GOATS; and living Gods

RUGBY (LIONS! LIONS!)

Not every sport makes a great documentary. Not every documentary is SO good that it is the subject of its own documentary. Living with Lions is that documentary.

NFL

The league just isn’t set up to cope with tanking. But that’s what’s going on. (BBC)

BOXING

I have yet to see an article that thinks the McGregor-Mayweather fight is a good idea. Here are two very different styles on saying why it’s very bad: dogshit (Deadspin) or idiocy (The Guardian).

NBA

How the Warriors duped the NBA (FiveThirtyEight). Or, put another way (via the Economist) how they have broken basketball.

Also: the truth about the hot hand. (ESPN)

TENNIS

The greatest clay-courter ever? A great piece comparing the achievements of Evert and Nadal on the red stuff. (Tennis.com)

BASEBALL

What does it feel like to get hit by a pitch? (ESPN)

FOOTBALL

How Iran’s success reflects the failures of Asian football. (Economist)

ICYMI

The Age of the Living God: Superstars are staying superstars for longer than ever. (The Ringer)

Numbers, racism, terrorism and the media: why we can’t get it right

Was the man who drove a van into the public in Finsbury last night (June 18) a terrorist? The question isn’t meant to be a racially-motivated one (we’ll come to that), but a question of numbers.

If three people plan an attack using a van and knives, that’s clearly terror. A lone man drives a car onto a pavement? Is that terror or just murder?

If terror requires an ideological target, then the car attack on Westminster Bridge was terror, and so was the attack on Muslims gathered after prayer. In fact, in both cases the attacker was shouting their motives out loud, so we don’t have to dig too deeply to ascribe a motive. But calling both men terrorists is deeply unhelpful.

The problem here is that if every racially-motivated attack is terror, where do we stop? We are in a constant reporting of a terror war, which only serves to inspire the extremists on both sides. Yet to call it (merely?) a hate crime is a big step, especially if the authorities are calling it terror.

To try and take terror out of the equation for lone attackers now is also a problem of the sequence of incidents. Muslim attacker (Westminster Bridge) = terrorist; White attacker (Finsbury) = hate crime. That’s not acceptable.

(Manchester was terror, no question – there was a network involved. Jo Cox’s murderer? He was tried for murder, but it was clear it was treated as a terrorist murder – this article explains the nuance.)

It’s also a question of race. Politicians are already striving for equivalence – look at Theresa May’s line that this attack was “every bit as insidious and destructive to our values and our way of life” as previous ones. That entire expression ‘every bit’ implies that you’ve already thought it – that Muslims are somehow fair game, as opposed to the people (more white, though not exclusively) in Borough Market. And that you need to check your racism at the door. This is the language of white privilege talking to an ethnic minority, and well-intentioned though it is, there is a code here. Saying ‘we care just as much’ is to assume that somewhere, there’s an assumption of less care, whether it’s you thinking it or me.

The problem that underpins all this is the breathless coverage. We need to move to a media environment where we think more along the lines of suicide reporting – more coverage is NOT a good thing.

It’s worth noting Simon Jenkins on the Westminster attack – his words are just as relevant today:

The actions of the authorities and the media in response to Wednesday have ramped up the hysteria of terror. This was ostensibly a random act by a lone player without access even to a gun. To over-publicise and exaggerate such crimes is to be an accomplice after the act. London’s response to the Westminster attack is an open invitation to every crazed malcontent to try it again.

There have been lots of calls to change our terror reporting. Looking at the coverage today, it’s clear no one is paying attention.

We are stuck in a cycle of labelling every attack as terror, unleashing 24-7 coverage and endless articles, and then wondering why it happens so often. I’d like to think there’s a way out of this dystopian mayhem, but if it starts with relying on the media to tone it down, don’t expect any progress.

Britain’s voting system is delivering what the public want

Hello hung parliament: Britain is back into deals and power arrangements, after just two years of Conservative majority. Another election in 2017 is a possibility if things fall apart.

The question I want to explore is this: is the first-past-the-post system (FPTP) delivering what voters want?

FPTP is one of the main criticisms of the UK political system. Each MP just needs to win the most votes in a seat, which can mean that they need to win far fewer than half the votes to be elected. That means smaller parties can pick up lots of votes, and get no seats, and results are skewed towards the winning party.

The most egregious example of this is the UK Independence Party – UKIP – in the 2015 election. With 12 per cent of the overall count – 3.8 million votes – they won just a single seat. FPTP clearly screwed UKIP in 2015.

This is nothing new. The Liberal Democrats have always suffered in this way, and their manifesto invariably contains a section on voting reform, moving to systems such as single transferable vote.

Whatever the merits of other systems, the question for the British people is not just about smaller parties. Does FPTP skew the result towards one or both of the two main parties, Conservative and Labour?

To assess whether FPTP is delivering an unfair outcome, the best measure is to look at the percentage of seats won compared to the percentage of votes won. This takes into consideration the different number of seats available in each election, and (importantly) voter turnout.

A perfect system would deliver a score for each party of 1. That would mean votes translate into seats at exactly the same rate. A score above 1 means the party gets more seats for their votes; a score less than one is the opposite, the party gets fewer seats per vote.

The Lib Dems have clearly suffered, with their scores in the last 10 elections running like this: 0.25, 0.16, 0.38, 0.44, 0.43, 0.42, 0.17, 0.15, 0.14, 0.13.

UKIP’s 2015 result was 0.01 – far worse than anything the Lib Dems have endured. (The Green party’s score in 2015 and 2017 was 0.04 and 0.10 – also a terrible ratio).

Some smaller parties lose out – that’s clear. Others do better – the Scottish National Party have in the last two elections got around 1.8 – in other words, close to twice the seats that their vote share suggests. Sinn Fein, the DUP and Plaid Cymru have also all scored above 1. The lesson is that smaller parties do well if their vote is concentrated in a region, rather than spread out over England.

But I think the bigger issue is whether the main parties are getting seats far out of proportion. That’s a more alarming question, as it has far greater impact on whether a party can force through legislation that half the country doesn’t want.

The latest election has in fact delivered the fairest set of results in the last 40 years (looking at the last 10 general elections). The Conservatives got 1.15 seat share per vote share; Labour got 1.01. This is the only time in the data that I’m looking at that the winning party was below 1.2. FPTP is not the problem here in terms of delivering voter intention. In fact, a hung parliament is exactly reflective of the votes cast. Continue reading

Sport Geek #75: the case for legalising drugs in sport

This week, a polemic. I’ve been thinking about Maria Sharapova’s return to the circuit, the plan to wipe world records in athletics, and drugs generally in sports. The truth is, I can’t see a way out, and I don’t think I’m alone. The road goes nowhere. So the conclusion I keep coming to is: make performance enhancing drugs legal.

This is clearly not a popular view. But let’s try it out for a moment. I’m going to look at the main objections and try and unpack this. Bear with me.

Testing doesn’t work

Of course testing works on a basic level, but the big picture is testing clearly doesn’t work. We have a situation where retrospective testing has caught a whole bunch of athletes from London 2012 and Beijing 2008 years later. Is that good? Not really. The clean athletes have missed their moment of glory, the public has moved on, and the history books just look messy.

Also, as pointed out elsewhere, most major drug scandals are due to whistleblowers, not testing: Russia, Lance Armstrong, Balco. Even Ben Jonson was (probably) set up (he got busted on a drug he wasn’t taking, apparently).

Added to that, testing catches about 1 per cent of athletes. Whereas most estimates put non-approved drug use at around 30 to 40 per cent. It’s woeful. Even if we got to catching a third of athletes, there are generations that got away with it. The war was lost a long time ago. And in the future? Continue reading

Sport Geek #73: wipe clean, F=ma, and Sochi success

Unquestionably, the most interesting story from a sports stats perspective this week is the proposal to erase lots of athletics world records. This has been an idea that has been kicked around for a while, but not taken that seriously, until now.

Of course, under any set of reset rules, someone will lose out. Currently Paula Radcliffe is making a lot of noise, and you might see her point. However, I think it’s a great idea, and here’s why.

First, the current marquee records of the women’s 100m, 200m and 400m are a total sham. They were set in the drug-fuelled years before serious testing took place – pre 1989. Everyone knows they are a joke, and the inability of women to challenge them since should be seen as a sign of strength in drug testing, not weakness. That means though, that the true world record holders, whoever they are, are being denied glory and financial reward. I looked into this for my book, Sports Geek. The problem can be summed up as: Flo-Jo.

Second, athletes should remember that records are temporary, medals are permanent. Lots of runners have been delighted to set world records, but know that someday it goes. (I suspect Radcliffe’s determination to hold on to her marathon record is in part due to her inability to win Olympic gold. The title of her website is “Paula Radcliffe – Marathon world record holder”). The point is: it’s a privilege, not a right, to be the holder of a world record.

Lastly, if a couple of legit records get wiped, maybe that’s acceptable collateral damage. Fans and commentators will know the true mark, as will competitors. Just as sprinters know that the women’s current records are a sham. Wouldn’t it be better to inject some honesty into the game, for fans and competitors alike?

Read more: Sean Ingle in the Guardian.

FOOTBALL

Manchester United are unlucky – FiveThirtyEight crunch the numbers to show how.

F1

When your biggest star dies, someone or something has to take the blame. Vice looks at Senna, 20 years on.

NFL

“[American] Football as we know it is done, because the lawyers are here.” SBNation looks at a sport in turmoil, the equation that can’t be beaten (F=ma if you must know), and what the future might hold.

BASEBALL

It’s taken more than a century but Major League Baseball finally has its first African player. Quartz explains.

TENNIS

Welcome back, Maria? SportingIntelligence looks at the doping dilemma, and also Pep Guardiola (who failed tests for nandrolone, which I didn’t know before)

BOXING

Anthony Joshua: he the man. The Economist asks if boxing’s heavyweight division will get a revival?

OLYMPICS

Where’s the tumbleweed disaster? City Journal looks at Sochi, the Olympics that didn’t turn to dust.

That is all.

Sport Geek #72: Qi/Za, the quadruple, and switching places

A brief break – hols and all that – so here are a few things from April to get your chops around.

FOOTBALL

Champions-strugglers-champions (elect) vs Strugglers-champions-strugglers: the Economist looks at how Chelsea and Leicester keep swapping places.  Plus the Guardian shows how British managers are overrated by English clubs – and the stats back it up.

SCRABBLE

Yup, Scrabble. A FiveThirtyEight dive into how Qi and Za have changed the game.

RUGBY

The Guardian on why the Lions selection process is almost as tough as the tour.

SKATING

Quartz on the physics behind figure skating’s most difficult jump – the quadruple.

NFL

The Ringer on how to draft a quarterback.

TENNIS

ESPN on how the Roger Federer revival couldn’t have come at a better time.

Sport Geek #71: Raiders move, Wembley at 10, and Partridge F1

Let’s crack on, shall we?

RAIDERS ON THE MOVE

You might have heard that the Oakland Raiders are going to become the Las Vegas Raiders. This might seem strange after a great season with a great new quarterback (Derek Carr), but there’s a few reasons why. Number one, as ever: money. Forbes does the numbers. Here’s the four key things you need to know.

ALAN AND F1

I love this. The headline says it all: ​”A worryingly deep dive into Alan Partridge’s enduring love affair with Formula 1“.

WEMBLEY AT 10

Of course it’s not good value. Then again, the Raiders new stadium will be 20,000 fewer seats for $1.9bn…

FOOTBALL

José Mourinho thinks it’s getting harder to buy success. Is he right?

Syria: Football on the frontline. A great piece from the BBC.

How to save a penalty: the truth about football’s toughest shot.

GLOBAL!

Forget the NFL, the 39th game and all that – Rugby league’s Toronto Wolfpack are the first transatlantic sports team.

TENNIS

Australian bad boys – unlike Tomic, at least there’s hope for Kyrgios.

That will be all.

Sport Geek #70: some radical ideas

If this week has a theme, it’s some pretty outlandish ideas. Here we go…

Crazy idea #1) Should we relegate half the Premier League each season? It would certainly liven things up a bit. Mid-table mediocrity begone! Weirdly, as the Guardian points out, it’s a idea that’s been around for a while… (since 1926)

Crazy idea #2) Should we make hooliganism a sport? An idea that has come out of… Russia.

Good idea #1) Let’s simplify and speed up golf.

Good idea #2) Why not create an Olympic city to stop the financial ruin of hosting the Games? Or perhaps create a pool of 5-10 cities that rotate. Less waste!

Interesting point #1) Football managers have way less influence than you think. Ranieri wasn’t a genius, and nor should he have been sacked.

Interesting point #2) Sports writing (esp in the US) is a liberal profession. How did that happen?

Interesting point #3) Wimbledon’s football rebirth is, arguably, the greatest sports story (n)ever told.

Adios

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