Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Author: rob (page 3 of 38)

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.


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.


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


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


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


The Ringer on how to draft a quarterback.


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?


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.


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


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


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.


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


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.


Sport Geek #69: snakes, Trump and pop culture

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 .

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

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.

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

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

Who to blame for the Patriots’ insufferable success?

T20 is playing the data game.

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


Sport Geek #68: Patriot games, Cook chat, and chess drugs


You might hate the Patriots (with all that winning and cheating) but on the field, they did something quite special. So, where next? First, what must teams do to beat them. Second, think about a few things Atlanta could have done differently, and it’s a Falcons win. Third – let’s just go back and bask in the records set. Amazing. And lastly, this was NOT anything like Trump’s victory. Move on.


So long, Alastair Cook
You were very good at batting
And captaining England
But were quite dull at chatting.

300. In T20. Seriously?


Post-match interviews. Enough already?


PEDs, chess-style.



Sport Geek #67: SB LI, 35 is the new 25, and trusting the process

This week is divided into three sections. One is looking forward to the Super Bowl. One is looking back at the Australian Open. And the other is on finance / tanking. Happy reading. ps buy the book if you haven’t yet.


If you’ve not followed this season in the NFL, it breaks down like this. The Atlanta Falcons have a really good offense – ie they score a lot of points, and have the stand-out receiver in the NFL in Julio Jones. Check out his highlight reel – it’s impressive. However, Atlanta are not an experienced team in the playoffs, and they are up against the New England Patriots. The Pats still have Tom Brady as quarterback, are coached by the best of all time, Bill Belichick, and simply put, this is what they do. Brady already has four Super Bowl wins to his name.

There are plenty of guides to the game out there – so here are some other angles. One – the NFL doesn’t want to talk Trump. Two – you might not like Tom Brady, but the Patriots are great because he takes a big pay cut. And three – the Patriots might never have become so good if it wasn’t for the so-called Tuck rule – which changed the course of the snow-game vs the Raiders back in 2002.

Can the Falcons do it? If Matt Ryan doesn’t throw an interception….


Federer beat Nadal and Serena beat Venus in the finals. Just think about that for a moment. Now start here – 50 parting shots from Jon Wertheim on SI. Does Federer’s win settle the “greatest of all time” debate? Maybe… Certainly few are arguing against Serena being the GOAT.

But this isn’t just about the greatest – it’s a triumph against age, a battle won vs time’s slowing spiral.  Here’s to the 35-year-olds.


Look at net spend – now let’s give Tottenham some credit.

Hinkie, tanking and the 76ers. Trust the process is a great mantra. If it works – and it seems it might.

See ya.

Sport Geek #66: pioneers, tanking, and Fergie Time

Nothing scientific per se about this, but the current Australian Open is incredible: six of the eight semifinalists are over 30. That may be a first, or it must be very rare. And we are just four results away from a possible Federer-Nadal, Williams-Williams finals weekend. Chew on that.



Two pioneers, two very different stories. Tymal Mills: the accidental T20 specialist. And Rachael Heyhoe Flint, the reluctant feminist who did so much for women’s cricket.


Attack attack attaaacckk! Fortune is favouring the bold at the Australian Open.


A good read, and a fun game: tanking.


Fergie Time still exists!

Valencia is on the brink of collapse.


I’m not so sure about the ‘loved’ bit about Bernie Ecclestone.

That’s it – ciao.

Sport Geek #65: over-achievers, stupid fans, and backpage metrics

Main thought: I’m loving the NFL this year.


A very statty take on which country is the biggest over-achiever in the 6 Nations.


Don’t listen to the fans! What the hell do they know?


Where did it all go wrong, Pep?


Keep on yelling. It works.

How to lose quarterbacks and alienate people.

Well done Los Angeles: you now have two terrible teams.

Stay classy, San Diego.


I love this – contract negotiations using backpage metrics.

That’s it. Get reading…

There’s always my book too, if you haven’t already…

In (partial) defence of Fifa’s 48-team World Cup plan

The format of 32 has proven to be the perfect formula from all perspectives…

So said the EFA. But not quite all perspectives, and certainly not the one which counts most: Fifa’s.

The World Cup has been 32 teams since 1998. It starts with 8 groups of 4, top two go to the knockout round. It’s mathematically ideal and beautiful in every way.

So why change it? You can read good summaries on the BBC, Guardian, and also the Mail on typical jingoistic form (Burkina Faso but not Scotland!). The best analysis is here on the Economist. But aside from the politics and possible extra cash, is it so awful to destroy the perfect 32-game Cup?

Yes and no. Yes, for all the reasons linked to above. Yes because it makes the structure far less neat. No, because more teams from smaller nations is an admirable motive. So let’s look at the structure.

Fifa is suggesting 16 groups of 3, top two to knock out. That means two group games for each team, rather than three; and five knock out matches rather than four through to the final.

The initial negative reaction is based on three unavoidable things: fewer big teams will meet at the group stage; three in a group means final group matches might result in boring draws if both teams are through to the next stage; and fewer group matches means 16 teams get only two matches before heading home, rather than the current minimum of three.

Let’s unpick each one. Continue reading

The 10 best sports graphics and data visualisations of 2016

It’s year-end journalism time! My non-scientific round up for 2016 of the best sports graphics… drum roll please.

THE WINNERS (I couldn’t decide between them)

The Sumo Matchup Centuries In The Making
By Benjamin Morris
Publisher: FiveThirtyEight
A beautiful history of Sumo wrestling. Stunning photos, great charts – this is a model of modern data journalism coupled with great writing and presentation.

The NFL Draft
By Tim Meko, Denise Lu, Bonnie Berkowitz and Lazaro Gamio
Publisher: Washington Post
The NFL draft is a whole sport in itself: some teams play it far better than others. The WashPo nails a mix of interactivity, user input (pick your team), long-scrolling with story-telling to amazing effect. It’s not a “beautiful” graphic, but instead a whole application delivered brilliantly. Quite amazing.


Premier League 2015-16 – the story of the season
By Neil Richards
Publisher / Platform: Tableau
Not mobile-friendly, but a great way to replay the 2014-15 season. Interactivity that’s integral rather than gimmicky. And it even has managerial sackings!
Notable mention: see also the FT’s rise of Leicester.

Perfect, Freaky Olympic Bodies
By Joshua Robinson, Paolo Uggetti, Siemond Chan and Mike Sudal
Publisher: Wall Street Journal
One of a great crop of Olympic graphics this year, this had no interactivity at all – just a very arresting set of images delivered with great style, looking at some extreme types of Olympic physique.

How Nafissatou Thiam beat the odds to claim the heptathlon gold in Rio
By Niko Kommenda, Apple Chan Fardel and Monica Ulmanu
Publisher: The Guardian
A lovely interactive graphic, coupled with photos and a great story to show how the heptathlon was won. Thiam needed the performance of a lifetime to steal the crown from the favourite. A good example of clean graphics enhance what would otherwise have been a great story in any case.

A visual history of women’s tennis
By John Burn-Murdoch
Publisher: Financial Times
This is how to do sports history. Brilliant. (Disclaimer: I’m a colleague and friend. But this is really good).
Notable mention: The LA Times on Serena Williams – a visual tour of her greatness.

Every shot Kobe Bryant ever took. All 30,699 of them
By Joe Fox, Ryan Menezes and Armand Emamdjomeh
Publisher: LA Times
Weirdly compelling, slightly unnecessary but fantastic all the same. Title says it all.
See also: Stephen Curry’s 3-Point Record in Context by the NYTimes

The current All Blacks are the most dominant rugby side ever. Why?
By James Tozer
Publisher: The Economist
Not visually arresting like others in this list, but a great statistical take on the All Blacks’ rugby dominance, and it has one chart that says it all.

A Visual History of Which Countries Have Dominated the Summer Olympics
By Gregor Aisch and Larry Buchanan
Publisher: New York Times
No list would be complete without something from the NYT, and this is a great visual history. Charts that you will just love. Brilliant. See also: the interactive medal chart. Accept no others.

There were some other great NYT graphics on Phelps and sprinting, for instance. But sticking with my rule of one per publisher, the last-but-not-least spot goes to…

Most Unlikely Comebacks: Using Historical Data To Rank Statistically Improbable Wins (in the NBA)
Publisher: Polygraph
This is just so well done, I love it. I just think you should see it.

So there it is folks. The best of 2016, completely subjective, as compiled by me. You may have your own favourites that I’ve missed, so please add in the comments. But there’s nothing at stake here, just great data journalism to enjoy.

Winners will (probably) get a copy of my book – I know, I know. But it is worth a read.

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