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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Streaky Chat

Just saw that Alan Reifman has posted a chat with Jim Albert and Jay Bennett on his Hot Hand in Sports site. Albert and Bennett of course are the authors of the excellent book Curve Ball: Baseball, Statistics, and the Role of Chance in the Game.

I thought that their answer to the question of why there is more luck in baseball was interesting. Their three main reasons were:

"(1) The major sports allow the best team to be fielded in each game. Because pitchers can only start once every four or five days, the most important player in baseball varies from game to game. This tends to equalize teams in a baseball game. How would the Patriots do if Tom Brady played in only one quarter of the games? It would tend to bring them back in the pack.

(2) Most major sports allow unlimited use of their best players. In football, if you have Jim Brown or Walter Payton, your use of his exceptional playing ability is limited only by defensive adjustments (which also helps to make the rest of your offense look better). In basketball, you can give the ball to Michael Jordan or Allen Iverson as much as you want. Baseball limits the use of your best players in the lineup. You can't allow Barry Bonds to bat any time you want. The use of an advantage in ability is severely limited in baseball. I think this is the primary reason for your example about the 49ers vs. the Patriots at Foxboro and the Devil Rays sweeping the Yankees.

(3) Baseball has a longer season than all other major sports. It's more likely to achieve extremely high or low winning percentages with a shorter season. This is especially true for football, less so for basketball and hockey."

To these I would simply add that in baseball a single event such as the swing of the bat can more often alter the score and therefore make the difference between winning and losing whereas in sports such as basketball and baseball it usually takes a combination of skillfully executed plays to result in a score. When that is the case a less skilled player can have a disproportionate affect on the game.

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