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Re: [APBR_analysis] SABR/Sports Econ update

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  • PDXWiz@aol.com
    This sounds like they were very interesting--and very brain-taxing conferences--but that many ideas went out both ways to stimulate new thinking. Very
    Message 1 of 52 , Jul 29, 2003
      This sounds like they were very interesting--and very brain-taxing conferences--but that many ideas went out both ways to stimulate new thinking. Very beneficial for everyone.

      In a message dated 7/29/2003 5:33:08 PM Pacific Daylight Time, deano@... writes:

      Clutch whatever:  People continue to look at this sucker in baseball and people continue to find that clutch hitters don't exist.  Maybe they exist for a season, but they don't repeat over multiple seasons.  In basketball, certain players definitely get disproportionately more opportunities to have clutch shots.  Does knowledge by a defense that Mr. Clutch is going to get the ball actually have an impact on clutch ability in hoops?  Because the opportunity to bat in the clutch is random in baseball and not in basketball, I have to wonder whether we could find some sort of clutch ability (or negative ability) in hoops.

      If no researcher has found proof of clutch hitters in baseball, perhaps a player's seeming clutch ability is all random, modified by their base percentage chance to hit (and, outside of gaming, how does one determine real life 'base percentage chance to hit' and what modifies it and so on).

      This leads me to wonder whether or not basketball does have clutch ability or not. It's far easier for professional hoops players to make a free throw, even with the pressure of a Finals game 7 and 3 seconds to go, down by one, with enemy fans waving white balloons in your face, than for even a good hitter like a Barry Bonds to get a base hit when his team is down by three runs, there are two outs and it's the bottom of the ninth.

      There's always that niggling chance that the pitcher can lose control and hit the batter with a 90- or 100-mph fastball. But, just like a NASCAR driver hurtling down the speedway at 200 mph, you accept it and get used to the pressure--but it's always there somewhere in the back of your mind.

      I think the pressure of getting the hit is much harder than the fear of getting hit, however, since the batter has to swing the bat in such a way as to connect with the ball, and the physics of baseball require a small portion of the bat connect with a small portion of the ball, and it is difficult (if not down right impossible) to control where the ball will deflect to. Even in bunting, aiming isn't really possible. So baseball is truly all random (by my interpretation).

      However, in basketball, shooting a free throw is a relatively relaxed event; you can put 5 points of contact on the ball by the pads of your fingers, a sixth point with the heel of your hand, and several square inches if the palm of the hand is used in the release. Much easier to line up and control. The best players also spend a goodly amount of time practicing (I remember stories of Larry Bird coming in two hours before the rest of the team to practice free throws, even on game days. That obviously paid off with a great career free throw rate and many game-winning free throws. Even so, Bird did miss his share of game-winners. But over the course of his career, it was a reasonable expectation he would make them count.

      Similarly, shooting from anywhere on the court, in any normal situation, it's going to be easier to control the shot towards the target. Especially by attending practice and practicing shots under game conditions (a defender in your face, or driving through the defense, or popping a jumper from 18 feet out). Now, it does occur to me that if players lined up and practiced 3-pointer attempts as much as free throw shooting, some players should get better and be able to really knock them down. Many times in games, you will see a player stop and get just as set as when they shoot a free throw, and so they have a much better chance of the shot going in.

      Then again, maybe it's all random luck; in which case, Jerry West wasn't so much Mr. Clutch as Mr. Lucky.

      History:  My god, does baseball have a lot of researchers, a lot of topics, a lot of approaches, and a lot of history.  When I was at SABR, I started off saying that basketball is 25 years behind baseball in its research.  Now, I'd say we're infinitely behind.  We may catch up in some ways, but the recorded history of basketball is so poor and destined to remain so because of the lack of videotapes, the lack of solid boxscores, the lack of significant popularity for an extended period of time.  The dark ages of baseball records ended in the early 20th centure.  The dark ages of basketball records ended in the 1980's.

      Professional baseball, and the early statistics, began as early as 1871, and the National League began play in 1875. In fact, the Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves franchises were playing then (as the Chicago White Stockings and Boston Red Stockings, names appropriated by their cross-town American League rivals a quarter-century later). By the time of the first World Series in 1903, baseball's statistical categories were pretty well set, with minimal changes since then (game-winning RBIs being the one major category introduced since then, and since dropped).

      By the time the NBA adopted the 3-point field goal as a statistical category for the 1979-80 campaign, baseball had been gathering stats for more than a century. More than half of the franchises in baseball are over a hundred years old, in fact. The beginnings of SABR date back as far as the early or mid 70s, I believe. So they have a good, solid, quarter-century lead on us in the APBR. Our game has been professional for a century as well, but our oldest current franchise (other than the Globetrotters), the Detroit Pistons, barely dates back to 1941, and statistics are almost completely non-existent until ten years beyond that point. On the other hand...if you look at it from the standpoint of the statistical research startup dates, they were 100 years behind the beginning of baseball's modern major leagues (dating to the birth of the National Association where the Cubs' and Braves' first franchises began playing), and we were only 60 years behind the beginning of basketball's modern era (dating to the start of the NBL in '37, where 5 of our franchises date from).

      I'll agree about the dark ages of statistics and such, but on the other hand, we have the benefit of being able to learn from what SABR has discovered (because they were first), and can adopt many of their researches to our needs. Besides, the NBA became more popular than baseball (and hockey, and even football) during the 80s thanks to Magic, Bird, and Stern on our side, and much labor strife on their parts (and no television exposure for hockey). Increased exposure in the 90s and 00s have made the NBA the biggest single sports league in the world, and the second-most popular sport after American football in the states and after soccer-football in the world. Not a bad accomplishment...and we'll still be strong in 2103 if we can ditch the defensive-minded game (unlike baseball, which--thanks to player and owner greed--is undergoing internal combustion and collapse).

      Competitive balance:  For my book, I looked at how the NBA teams typically get shuffled from one season to the next and from over about 5 years.  I viewed turnover to be a pretty good thing, ensuring that different teams get a chance to be good.  Well, it's only partially true in the NBA, but it was nice to see the sports economists start thinking about competitive balance this way.  They have said for a while that intra-season dispersion of team records indicates competitive balance.  By that measure, the NBA is horribly imbalanced.  I've felt that this measure reflected as much the number of players impacting a team as competitive balance.  The NBA has 5 guys playing offense and defense, with often one or two guys dominating an offense and more balance on D.  The NFL or soccer or baseball has a lot more guys and they will naturally not be so varying in quality as a group as individuals.  It was nice to hear that acknowledged.

      Turnover is a good thing for the health of the league; it certainly has helped keep the NFL on top in recent years during our labor strife. Although it certainly is frustrating to individual fans, in this era, no one team can or should dominate as much as the Celts really did from the beginning of the Russell era in 57 to the end of the Bird era in the early 90s, or the Yankee dynasties from 1920-1964, or Montreal in hockey from World War II through 1970.

      NBA in sports economics:  Hasn't been studied as much as baseball.  Baseball has been studied intensely by sports econ guys.  They've developed manager ratings for baseball.  They've looked at competitive balance.  They've looked at what impacts ticket prices.  They've looked at naming rights for stadiums.  They've looked at the impact of free agency.  But most of their study of basketball has been on race.  Do black players make as much as they should?  Is there racism by owners?  Is there reverse racism by owners?  Is there racism by fans?  Some interesting stuff, much of which is interesting and possibly true.  Dave Berri compiled this history of sports econ on basketball, but I can't distribute it.  Neat stuff, though.  I still don't buy all his conclusions.

      I'll bet a lot of the baseball research by sports economists could be easily adapted to basketball.

      Organizational economics:  There was one very conceptual talk about organizational economics that pretty much said that neo-classical economics, which is so common now to explain baseball labor problems, etc., is WRONG.  It was interesting because it said that the health of a league matters more than the profit of the owners.  Profit-maximizing owners is all that needs to be assumed for neo-classical economics to make all sorts of predictions, many of which have been hard to show in the data (that big market teams always win, for example).  In this organizational economics, owners recognize that the legitimacy of competition among teams in the league is vital and will make moves to also aid that.  So, yeah, the Yankees always win, but why don't the Mets?  Why do the Packers have such great success as a small market team?  One prominent voice suggested that the Packers are not a small market, but that rubbed a few people wrong (like changing the definition of values to fit the theory).  Not being an economist, I get a chance to listen and absorb.  Given that this organizational economics actually sounds a lot like the methods I've used to give credit to teammates on basketball teams, I'm listening and absorbing more about organizational economics these days.  But I also did order a neo-classical textbook on sports economics because I like the balance (and because I seem to need to torture myself with academic exercises).

      Owner profit-mongering is definitely destroying baseball, especially when the player salaries are out of control. The profit-sharing that both the NBA and the NFL have in place, coupled with the salary caps, are ways to keep the league healthy (even if individual franchises do shift from time to time).

      Green Bay might be a small-market, but they long ago struck a deal with the NFL that the league would never put a franchise in Milwaukee (or anywhere else in the state). I'm not sure when that agreement went through (although it was after competing franchises in Kenosha, Madison, Milwaukee, and Racine had all bit the dust), but it definitely forces some consideration of the Packers market including medium-sized Milwaukee.

      At the end of the conferences, I also got a call from a friend with the Celtics who just read Moneyball and said that a lot of NBA people were reading it.  They're looking for the Bill James-like wisdom that inspired that book.  He said he mentioned my book to a few other teams.  So, yeah, maybe in a few years we will have teams looking at what we're doing now.

      Is it my imagination, or has Bill James become Jordan-like in terms of leadership and ability and influence? Or maybe Thomas Jefferson would be a better model as a thinker.

    • igor eduardo küpfer
      ... From: Gary Collard To: APBR_analysis@yahoogroups.com Sent: Thursday, August 07, 2003 12:13 PM Subject: Re: [APBR_analysis] SABR/Sports Econ update ... That
      Message 52 of 52 , Aug 8, 2003
        ----- Original Message -----
        Sent: Thursday, August 07, 2003 12:13 PM
        Subject: Re: [APBR_analysis] SABR/Sports Econ update

        Jim Armstrong wrote:
        > On Mon, Aug 04, 2003 at 04:00:38PM -0500, Gary Collard wrote:
        > > I'm not sure why that was so controversial.  The concept of market size in
        > > the NFL is pretty much meaningless, since most league revenue is shared
        > > equally.  The reason that a Yankees in baseball have such an advantage is
        > > that they have local TV revenues that are an order of magnitude or more
        > > greater than most (all?) of the other teams and is significant compared to
        > > national revenue, thus they can afford to have a payroll that is 60%
        > > greater than any other team even before they pay the luxury tax as they do
        > > in 2003.  In the NFL, there is no local TV at all, and (over a period of
        > > years, letting spikes in bonus payments wash out) little payroll deviation,
        > Actually, if you look at the distribution of team player payrolls, the NFL
        > and the NBA are quite comparable (see standard deviation in data below).

        That is why I specifically said "over a period of years, letting spikes in
        bonus payments wash out" in the case of the NFL.  The one year payroll
        numbers you listed are meaningless to my point, do you have the data to run
        them for the last 5 years or more?  That will tell you who has the "harder"

        Gary Collard
        Maybe the coefficient of variation (SD / Mean * 100) is a more apt measure for comparing the variation of payrolls for different sports across seasons.
        Year     NHL     NFL     NBA     MLB
        1994    28.3     8.7    15.2    26.6
        1995    26.6    12.7    24.1    27.7
        1996    43.3    11.9    21.9    31.4
        1997    #N/A    15.3    28.9    33.0
        1998    #N/A    12.1    27.0    37.4
        1999    33.4    12.0    23.0    43.1
        2000    37.4    13.8    23.6    38.3
        2001    31.1    13.5    24.6    38.3
        2002    33.0    18.1    20.6    36.6
        2003    35.9    #N/A    24.0    38.9
        On this measure, NBA teams show less variation in payroll than baseball and hockey teams, but the NFL teams are more level than any of them.

        Data from Rodney Fort's excellent resource: http://users.pullman.com/rodfort/SportsBusiness/BizFrame.htm
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