Sep

29

 It is always marvelous to consider how in 162 games played over 6 months time, the margin of victory can be so minute, and how often that it so.

Not only is it true in baseball, but in many sports, e.g., thousands of laps and tens of thousands of miles driven in 36 Nascar races run over 10 months, 21 stages and 1800km of the Tour de France run over 23 days, etc. And the slim margin of victory is evident in individual events as well, e.g., hundredths of a second in the 100m dash, or 10ths of a second after 500 miles of auto racing, a last second walk-off field 50-yard goal after 60 minutes of football, a tennis tournament coming down to deuce in the last game of the 5th set of week-long play, winning a 1.5 mile horse race by a nose, or sprinting the last few hundred yards of a 26 mile marathon to win by seconds.

So the Redsox and Rays, and Cards and Braves, respectively, find themselves with identical records after 161 games. Two of these teams are going to the playoffs with either a 0.6% or 0.3% margin of victory, depending upon today's wins/losses. Even the Brewers who are assured of a playoff spot have a margin of victory of only 6 games over 161, which amounts to 3%.

And, the NL batting title is going down to the wire with Ryan Braun of the Brewers and Jose Reyes of the Mets separated by hundredths of a percent after stepping up to the plate 600 times during the season.

All this reminds of how difficult it is, as the sample grows in size, to accrue sizeable percentage gains, even when one's winning percentage remains high. It reminds of driving a couple hundred miles on the freeway yesterday, then seeing the gas mileage drop by a percent after driving a few miles in town. It reminds of a past colleague explaining 93% of an observation with a few variables in the first data cut, then spending 6 months adding and subtracting other variables to improve that explanation by less than a percent.

It also reminds of John Wooden famously instructing his players how to properly put on their socks. He showed them how to roll the sock, place it over the toes, then how to tautly unroll it over the foot and up the ankle so that there were no wrinkles in the sock. His explanation was, to paraphrase, wrinkles cause blisters, blisters lose games, losing games loses championships.

It goes to show that the old saw "the race is won in the last few yards" is frequently very true, and with the margin of error, or victory, in many cases being so slim, how seemingly unimportant details and decisions we make can affect the outcome of events in our lives, even many days, months and years down the road.


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4 Comments so far

  1. jeff watson on September 29, 2011 8:43 am

    Do you realize that Boston’s collapse in September is the biggest September collapse in Baseball? Nobody has ever blown a 9 game September lead. http://baseball.about.com/od/majorleaguehistory/tp/pennantcollapses.htm

  2. steve on September 30, 2011 8:09 am

    This is an excellent commentary by Mr. Hillman. Many meals here as I am confident the chair would agree.

    I submit my small brief as complementary support:

    Baseball is a metaphor for life. The game is never over until the last pitch to the last batter of the last out. The beauty of this game is that you always get one last chance. Nobody can deny you one chance except yourself. There is no clock no stalling by your opponent and there are never any ties. Tampa Bay exhibited this down 9 full games for the wild card in the month of September and they catch Boston beat the Yankees in the 12th inning. 3 minutes after Boston loses in the bottom of the ninth to Baltimore. . St Louis caught Atlanta down 8 1/2 games for the month and won on the last game while Atlanta lost.

    Everyone says they want the ball only the winners mean it.

  3. Chris W on September 30, 2011 10:36 am

    If you got Pennington to find any valuable info when you asked him to develop quantitative analogies between forest life cycles and those of corporations to find some profitable trades you could certainly do the same in finding some numerical formula that could identify trade opportunities by analyzing baseball. Each team - a stock, the aggregate teams - the market, each player a corporate division, each salary an investment made in the division and the company, each relevant performance statistic - a relevant performance statistic. Identify the right decision mix that makes teams perform better over time and improve over time and analyze similarities in companies doing the same. The greatest liability, also the greatest asset - human decision and performance permeate the game of baseball from start to finish and one could question whether it’s possible to find a truly consistent system as a result. I would argue that this complexity makes it a perfect analogy to market/company performance. It moves based on imbedded and sometimes unexplainable intellect and experience of its participants The chaotic human decision making process is pervasive in both.

  4. vic on October 1, 2011 7:19 pm

    a rather brilliant post from mr. chris w. we should feature it. vic

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