Nate Silver: Red Sox were a 278 million to 1 dog to be eliminated from the playoffs three times in 2011 

Nate Silver writes in FiveThirtyEight:

The following is not mathematically rigorous, since the events of yesterday evening were contingent upon one another in various ways. But just for fun, let’s put all of them together in sequence:

The Red Sox had just a 0.3 percent chance of failing to make the playoffs on Sept. 3.

The Rays had just a 0.3 percent chance of coming back after trailing 7-0 with two innings to play.

The Red Sox had only about a 2 percent chance of losing their game against Baltimore, when the Orioles were down to their last strike.

The Rays had about a 2 percent chance of winning in the bottom of the 9th, with Johnson also down to his last strike.

Multiply those four probabilities together, and you get a combined probability of about one chance in 278 million of all these events coming together in quite this way.

When confronted with numbers like these, you have to start to ask a few questions, statistical and existential.

Jesus. There's a difference between "mathematically unrigorous" and "a total sack of crap".



Penalties in soccer tournaments 

As far as I can tell, if a soccer match has to be decided by penalty kicks, many teams (men's and women's teams, club and national teams) simply ask for volunteers when filling out the lineup.

Call me naive, but I can't see how this is in any way optimal, either technically or psychologically. In this year's Womens' World Cup, the England side followed in the footsteps of the men's side by losing a shootout, and afterward the coach blasted the team in the press because nobody stepped up to volunteer for a penalty. In contrast, one of the coaches for the USA women's side watches the players take penalties in practice and picks the lineup from the available players accordingly.

Really, I can't see how asking for volunteers can possibly accomplish anything other than letting the players psych themselves out, and I'm shocked that teams at the highest levels of the sport do this.



Lance Berkman is my new favorite baseball player 

ESPN sideline reporter Wendy Nix: "You've hit more home runs against the Cincinnati Reds than any active player in major league baseball -- I don't know if you knew that. Why is that?"

Berkman: "I don't know. I think it's a statistical anomaly...I think it's just one of those things where everybody has a team that they seem to do better against, and then there are other teams, for whatever reason, you don't do well against, so I can't explain it. I've been asked that several times, but I have no legitimate explanation for it."

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Random math fact of the moment 

The t-test is a statistical test used (among other reasons) to determine, given two samples drawn from normal distributions, whether the two distributions have equal mean. It was developed in 1908 by a chemist working for the Guinness brewery.

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Dear Reggie Miller: Gus Johnson > you 

In Florida's overtime win over BYU in the round of 16 in the NCAA basketball tournament, Florida had the ball in the frontcourt with about 15 seconds remaining and the score tied. Gus Johnson asked if BYU should commit an intentional foul to try to get the ball back, and Reggie Miller reacted as if Gus asked him if the moon was made of green cheese. At the time Vernon Macklin, Florida's starting center (11.5 PPG in 24.5 minutes, 59.3% FG but 45.1% FT over 100 free throws or so) was on the floor, and Florida was in the double bonus (two free throws for every non-shooting foul).

I won't bore you with the math here, but suffice it to say that one can construct plausible percentages such that fouling Macklin quickly if given the chance is marginally the correct play. If Florida is in the one-and-one, it becomes a much better play. The better the offenses are, the worse the free throw shooter for Florida is, and the worse BYU's chances in overtime are (they looked pretty gassed down the stretch to this non-professional observer), the more the decision swings in favor of fouling.

What I find really interesting is that in Florida's next game, an overtime loss to Butler, nearly the same situation transpired. Florida had the ball with :30 left in a tie game. However, Florida coach Billy Donovan kept Macklin on the bench for the final possession. The only reason I can think of for this is that Donovan feared that Macklin might get fouled with significant time left on the clock, and it's quite possible that Donovan didn't think of this possibility until news of Gus Johnson's allegedly ridiculous question hit the interwebs.

I don't think it's correct to keep Macklin on the bench in the above scenario; I think it's better to have him on the line than to run a final possession without him. But it is very interesting that Donovan thought of this possibility and that he thought that Butler coach Brad Stevens would have thought of it also.


Props to Jay Bilas for not being results-oriented 

He stands by his claim that VCU didn't deserve to make the NCAA tournament.

Of course UAB, another team he panned, got blown out in the play-in round, but he correctly refuses to use that as post-hoc justification as well.



Knee-jerk reactions 

I don't know if our current gun control laws are optimal. I am fairly confident, though, that public shootings are sufficiently rare events that drafting new gun control laws in their wake is a bad idea.

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The sabermetric revolution is coming to public schools 

LA Times and some guy at the Rand Corporation: Some elementary school teachers in the LAUSD are much more effective than others (as measured by performance on standardized tests), and that distribution doesn't correlate particularly well with the prestige of the school, seniority beyond ~3 years, additional degrees and training, or a bunch of other factors that people usually think are important.

Head of LAUSD teachers' union: LOL Rand Corp. are a bunch of idiots, the study is flawed because of (insert super-obvious criticism here), we're boycotting the LA Times.


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