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That was an interesting question by Manhattanhi on the odds that the best team may win in team sports. Being a mediocre tennis player I was wondering what you thought the odds of winning a championship in an individual sport like tennis or other individual sports. For example if I know I am a better than another player I can often coast until it's late in the set, then play at full strength and generally win a close match. On the ATP and WTA tour the top players tend to player about 50 to 80 matches a year. Rod Laver in 1969 played 122 matches (winning 106 according to Bud Collins' encyclopedia) in winning the Grand Slam that year.  
In majors I believe, at least for the male players that there is less chance of an upset because it's a best of five set format instead of best of three in most tournaments.  
I would define a championship in being number one for that year.
Asked by: patzeram

Answered: 10/21/2020
 I'm afraid I am not really following you.  


Have you ever fiddled with the application of win shares to post season play?  
Asked by: DavidH

Answered: 10/21/2020
 No.  It's an interesting question, because you would have to approach it so radically differently.   Over time, over enough games, a .300 hitter will always win you more games than a .250 hitter, other things being equal. . .walks, power, speed, defense.   But in a short series this isn't true; in a short series what matters is timing.   In a World Series you can go 4-for-25 and be the MVP if it's a two-run single, a walk-off single, a leadoff double and a three-run homer.  Or you can go 10-for-25 and have no impact on the series if you don't hit at the key moments.   You'd have to back off and run at it from a completely different angle.  


Re the "League of their Own" question: It has been awhile since I researched this stuff, but my memory is that the women's league started with what were essentially softballs, and that the size of the ball was reduced two or three times as the level of play improved-- but that they never actually got down to a regulation baseball, that it was always a little bigger and softer than a hardball, even though the women were not.
Asked by: taosjohn

Answered: 10/21/2020
 OK.  I don't know anything about it.  


Further note on newspapers.com, perhaps only of interest to you.  The search engine is pretty horrible.  Basic boolean searching doesn't exist, near as I can tell.  There is the ability to drill down a search into various geographic regions and years.  But nothing like a Lexis/Nexis "monkey w/15 pelicans" search or the like.  They have a supposedly improved search page but the capabilities seem essentially the same.  The worst thing is that when you get a hit on the pages with monkeys and pelicans on them, it will then insist on taking you to every hit for the more popular term (monkeys) unless you edit the search manually on every "hit" page to take you to the "monkey."  I would like to be optimistic that the service will eventually improve the search . . . but it is owned by Ancestry.com and Ancestry's search engine is pretty sub-par also.
Asked by: tkoegel

Answered: 10/21/2020
  It is difficult to hire good software engineers unless you are headquartered in Silicon Valley.  We struggle with this all the time with Sports Info Solutions; it's just hard to hire guys who have those skills, and they are well paid.  To really make that work, you'd probably have to invest a couple million in software engineers.  Boolian to you, to. 


It seems to me that your observation about the shortness of the football season is the same as the one about the number of independent trials in an individual game, just at a different level. 
Asked by: dfan

Answered: 10/21/2020
 I thought that was my point? 


I was interested in your thoughts about the sport in which the best team is likely to win.  I agree it's basketball but for a somewhat different, although I suppose related reason.  It seems to me that in baseball much of what happens is essentially random and out of the control of an individual player.  For example, a guy hits a screaming line drive with runners on base right at the second baseman (Willie McCovey).  Or, conversely, he hits a bloop fly that falls in.  Or a ball takes a bad hop, etc, etc.  In basketball, the players have much more control over what happens because it's a matter of physical dominance; Michael Jordan is just better than Craig Ehlo so most of the time, he will win.  In baseball, talent isn't outcome determinative in the short-term as it is generally in basketball.  Football is in between.  
Asked by: Marc Schneider

Answered: 10/21/2020
 I think there are randomized outcomes in other sports; they are just less clearly delineated.   A shot goes in or it misses; it is influenced by skill, but nobody can hit shots 100% of the time, and when you hit when you miss is heavily influenced by factors outside the shooter's control.   The same with rebounds--in fact, MORE SO with rebounds.   Rebounding is REALLY random; the ball either bounces in your direction or it doesn't.   It is one of the MOST randomized things in sports.   But because there is no "Pause. Set.  Action" sequence, it's less visible than it is in baseball.  


Hi Bill,  
I see your point there. 
Asked by: djmedinah

Answered: 10/21/2020
 Nobody else does.   You can't start comments here assuming that people know what you're talking about.   They don't.   You have to establish a frame of reference.  


You know who didn’t have such great luck?  Lefty Bill Short, that’s who. In August of ‘66 he was traded from the Orioles to the Red Sox, missing out on the World Series. Before the ‘67 season he was traded to the Pirates, missing out on another World Series. Then before the ‘69 season he was traded away from the Miracle Mets. There’s an alternate universe where this guy has a bio worth reading. He’s like the anti-Reggie Sanders...
Asked by: Michael P

Answered: 10/21/2020
 He was also in the Yankee system in 1960 and 1961, but didn't make the World Series roster either year.    In 1960 he pitched half the year in the majors, was 6-2 with a 2.28 ERA in triple A.  
1961 Topps - Bill Short #252 (Pitcher) - Autographed Baseb… | Flickr


Hi Bill... Regarding your observation on women’s Olympic running. It was at the 1928 (Amsterdam) Olympics, where women were granted the ‘distance’ run of 800 meters. Following the final, it seems some were aghast at the sight of women lying on the track, exhausted after finishing a World Record race (2:16.8). The women’s 800 wasn’t contested in the games, again, until 1960 (Rome), where the winner ran 2:04.3. The women’s marathon wasn’t contested until the 1984 Olympics in L.A., with Joan Benoit Samuelson (US) winning.
Asked by: DrewEck

Answered: 10/21/2020
 OK, thanks. 


Hi Bill,  
The reason the business about Gaussian vs. skewed distributions is important, I think, can be shown by data sets like yours about career Win Shares among the KC Royals.  
According to the spreadsheet I use (Numbers for Mac), the best fit of the data is to a power law distribution (R2=0.9416). But if that's true, then that suggests that the player with the most career Win Shares for the KC Royals would—eventually—be a player with around 6000 Win Shares. Using a Gaussian distribution, on the other hand, we would expect that the next player to have the most career Win Shares for the KC Royals would have only marginally more than Brett.  
One way to put this is to say that a Gaussian distribution seems to assume that the data fully represents the underlying process, while skewed distributions do not. So that I think is the issue between you (who observes that baseball data is often highly skewed) and those who argue that baseball data is bell-shaped.  
Asked by: djmedinah

Answered: 10/20/2020
 Well. . .it is bizarrely impossible to have 6,000 Win Shares, so there is something amiss with your process there.   The record for Win Shares is 800 or something. . .somewhere around 800.   In order to get 6,000, a player would have to be 8 times as great as Babe Ruth.   If you're describing the process in such a way that there is even a .000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 001 chance of somebody getting 6,000 win shares, you have an error in your assumptions somewhere.  


Responding to your question about the source, I bought a subscription to newspapers.com for genealogical research.  The amount of scanned/searchable newspaper data is breathtaking.  They had the New Orleans Times Democrat of that era in the collection.  
Asked by: tkoegel

Answered: 10/20/2020
 Yeah. . .I was curious about which one.   When working on The Man From the Train, we had a subscription to Newspaper Archives (newspaperarchives.com) and the number of papers you could search was fantastic.  But (a) it wasn't cheap, and they raised their rates after we finished the book, and (b) their internal programming is a nightmare.   You're constantly fighting the software to get wherever you are trying to go.   So I was wondering if there was a better alternative.  


Hey Bill: Have you ever studied the issue of, or do you have any thoughts on, in which sport is it more likely that the best team wins the championship? My impression is that it's 1. Basketball 2. Football 3. Baseball. In other words, baseball is more dependent on luck than the other sports. Any thoughts?  
Asked by: manhattanhi

Answered: 10/20/2020
 That is probably accurate, although baseball could be ahead of football.  A basketball game consists of many, many more independant trials than a baseball game.  A basketball game consists of 150 to 200 possessions, of which (a) about 50% are successful, and (b) each of which is an independant event.  A baseball came consists of 75-90 plate appearances, generally, but only about one-third are successful, and 80% of those which are successful (batter wins) don't change the score; they are linked events, rather than independant events.   This drives the "randomness" out of a basketball game, causing the better team to win each game a much higher percentage of the time.  Thus, even though there are only half as many games, the better team will win each GAME far, far more often.  
Football has a similar number of trials to basketball, at least higher than baseball, and a higher success percentage for the offense, but it has "linked" offensive sequences like baseball, rather than independant trials like basketball.  It could be that football overall has a higher "dominance" percentage than baseball, but it could also be that the shortness of their schedule creates a false impression that the team that happens to win is actually the better team.  In other words, in baseball a team can start out 13-3 and finish the season 70-92, and this exposes the fact that the 13-3 stretch was kind of a fluke.  But in football, the 13-3 stretch IS the entire season, and this protects the illusion that that actually is an .800 team.


I really enjoyed the movie "A League Of Their Own", and have always wondered why women's baseball seems to have died off while softball took its place?  Might be a better question for someone who knows women's softball better, but given your knowledge of history I thought you might have some insight.  Thanks.
Asked by: jimmybart

Answered: 10/20/2020
 I don't know if this is relevant, and some of it is surely not EXACTLY right, but. . . .when the modern Olympics began, there was no women's marathon.  In the 1920s there was agitation for a women's Marathon, but in the first year it was tried--I think 1928--a woman died of a stroke or heat prostration or something, and the women's marathon was cancelled.  It didn't start again until about 1980.  
Women's softball replaced baseball in that era when the general assumption of the culture was that women were not tough enough to do things like run marathons and play "hardball."   I think that softball replaced baseball largely because it was perceived as softer.  Once it became established, it was established.  


It was cool to see a Hey Bill submission from Cary Grant. His "...what he meant by that," observation reminds me of a a really old joke, to wit:  
Two psychiatrists are walking towards each other. One says to the other, "Hello." The other one thinks to himself, "Hmmm...I wonder what he meant by that."
Asked by: Gfletch

Answered: 10/18/2020
 Science New Yorker Cartoon


The brief monkey story is titled "1909: A Monkey On The Loose" and is on page 90 of The New Bill James HBA (first Free Press trade paperback edition 2003).  
You did not mention the Pelicans by name, you called them "the New Orleans team in the Southern League."  You called Henry "a rather large creature, perhaps a chimp, known for his surly disposition."    
When Shoeless Joe's contract was sold to the Cleveland Naps, he very much did not want to leave the Pelicans.  He was happy on his team and didn't care at all about going to the big leagues.  (He'd very reluctantly go to Cleveland and hit .408 as an American League rookie.)  This is a great example of something you said somewhere recently, that minor league teams used to really matter to players and fans and were not merely parts of "farm systems."
Asked by: Jaytaft

Answered: 10/18/2020


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