Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Category: newsletter (page 1 of 8)

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)

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 #74: the (nearly) two-hour marathon

Marathon world record, from Sports Geek (published 2016)

In my book, Sports Geek, I bravely (stupidly?) suggested that the two hour marathon was way out of reach. The reasoning was: we’re getting excited by current times, not looking at context. Also, we are not looking at the half marathon as proxy. As I put it:

… we aren’t learning from the past. If we extrapolated the marathon records set in the 1960s, we would have expected the two-hour mark to be broken back in 1977. Clearly, extrapolation isn’t everything.

I then looked at the half marathon as a proxy – the ratio should be around 2.1, and the half marathon world record is nowhere near 57 minutes.

A look at the half marathon record progression shows a more consistent pace of improvement. It also shows that to get to 57 minutes, we are looking at many decades, if ever.

This might simply tell us that runners don’t take the half marathon as seriously. Or, it might give us a warning sign not to expect the 2-hour marathon for many years to come.

So to the recent assault on the two-hour mark. Man, that was close. You can call it either way – as Quartz put it, even in a rigged race they failed. Or, it was a fantastic attempt to show what can be done. Regardless, it has put up for discussion the whole limits of performance issue, and may change running for ever.

THREE THINGS FROM ELSEWHERE

Is LeBron James better in the playoffs? No, he’s always this good.

Swearing makes you stronger. Fucking brilliant.

Women coaching men.  Tough gig.

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

Sport Geek #69: snakes, Trump and pop culture

FOOTBALL
Where have Leicester been all season? They’ve played badly, got rid of the manager, and then beat Liverpool 3-1. So are the players really snakes? Perhaps not. The Guardian’s Fiver email picks apart the narrative brilliantly .

RUGBY
What the hell was that? Italy have either betrayed the game, or been brilliantly clever. They still lost though.

POP CULTURE REFERENCES
He _____’d him: sometimes one basketball player does something to another that can only be described with an extremely specific pop culture reference. Such as these.

GOLF
Should golfers play with Trump? Most seem not to care too much about him being, you know, a fascist.

RICH
LeBron James is now ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo on Forbes SportsMoney Index.

NFL
Who to blame for the Patriots’ insufferable success?

CRICKET
T20 is playing the data game.

RUGBY LEAGUE
Forget the NFL or Premier League getting an overseas team – rugby League is way ahead of you there.

Ciao.

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