Author Archives: dre

Advanced Stats Television: Mental Samurai Episode 1

I’m a huge fan of reality TV and a huge fun of numbers. Shocker I know. When my friend Chris Yeh told me he’d be on Mental Samurai, I knew grudgingly I’d have a new television show I’d be into this year. About 10 minutes into the first episode I actually stopped watching and knew I’d have to record some stats. Maybe I’m broken that way! Anyway let’s talk Mental Samurai stats, strategies and more!

Also, Chris Yeh looks to be recording interviews with contestants of the show on his podcast – “The Chris Yeh Podcast” so subscribe if you haven’t!

The Premise

This game is pretty straightforward, a contestant is strapped into a gyroscopic device (called Ava) and is given five minutes to answer 12 trivia questions. They have to get every question correct. Miss one, and you’re out. The questions are from four categories (we’ll do a bigger breakdown below). After each question, the contestant is moved quickly via the gyroscope to the next. The host is Rob Lowe, and the contestant pool is from a pretty unique group. In the first episode, we get a Stanford dropout, an MLB pitcher, an astronaut, a lawyer, and a trucking expert/drag queen!

If a contestant answers all twelve questions correctly, they win $10,000. They then get four more questions, and a minute and thirty seconds to answer them. They also get any remaining time from the first round. Each correct answer is worth $25,000. Miss a question and you’re done. Answer all four, and you win $100,000 and the title of “Mental Samurai”

More in Depth Rules

The contestant is strapped into a fancy gyroscope called Ava that whips them between four towers. Each tower represents a different category of question type. The first round has three questions from each category. The order these are asked in appears random. The second round had one question from each category. Each question has a title type, and we some types repeat. Contestants have to say “Lock it in” and flip a switch when they answer their questions. Here’s a full rundown of the categories and specific question types in each.

Knowledge

These are basically pop culture questions.

  • Double Crossed: Guess a celebrity’s first and last name based on two crossword puzzle-style clues.
  • Fact Find: Seems like tossup. Choose between two options what this fact applies to.
  • Initial Impression: Use the initials of celebrities to spell another word.
  • Reality Check: Given two images, select which one is the real one. (e.g. an image of the Lincoln Memorial with a photoshopped eagle is shown next to the real one.)
  • Snap Shot: Two images are given that are visual clues. Guess the answer to a category given based on the images. (e.g. which superhero is represented by these two pictures)
  • Special Equation: A math problem but with clues for the numbers (e.g. highest dice roll and number of face cards in a deck of cards)
  • Toss Up: A trivia question with two options is given.
  • True Lies: True or false question.

Puzzles

  • Compound Fracture: Identify a word that completes two compound words. (e.g. class____ and ____mate)
  • Gridlock: Find three words in a letter scramble grid based on a criteria (e.g. tree types, cities)
  • Mirror Mirror: An image (so far only license plates) is shown. Select an image that is the mirror image of the one shown from a list of four.
  • Missing Piece: An image in the form of a jigsaw puzzle is shown with one piece missing. Three possible pieces are shown. Identify which would fill the missing spot.
  • Oddball: Four images are shown, spinning! Identify one that is unlike the other.
  • Wordnado: A word is broken into smaller fragments and animation of the fragments floating is shown. Figure out the word.

Sequence

  • Alpha Order: Arrange a list of items, usually three, by their alphabetical order. They’ll be shown three images, or the most clever, three numbers, and asked to arranged them alphabetically.
  • Back Order: Given a list of words that appear in a popular text (nursery rhyme on the show), list them in the order they appear.
  • Measure Up: Arrange three items based on their length. (e.g. six inches, two feet, a yard)
  • Record Breaker: Arrange a list of times by a given record criteria. Some examples are cities by the number of skyscrapers, Broadway musicals by the number of shows).
  • Striking Distance: Arrange a list of items by their location. (e.g. three cities from furthest west to furthest east)
  • Time Warp: Arrange a list of items by year. (e.g. arrange three NBA players by their draft year)

Memory

  • Chat Attack: A text message or Tweet is shown. Answer a question related to some detail (e.g. what location was mentioned in the Tweet. How many times did a letter or number appear in a text.)
  • Echo Chamber: Contestants have to repeat a sequence of words given to them.
  • Hear Say: Three sounds are played and then you have to answer a detail about them.
  • Memory Blackout: A quick video clip is shown. Then you have to answer a detail about the clip when it’s done.
  • Memory Mind Field: Six pictures in two rows of three are shown for a few seconds. Then the are obfuscated with a number for each location. Contestants then have to list the location of a given picture that was in the original six.
  • Name Dropper: An image of several people is shown, with some name identifier in front of them. Then only the headshot of one of the people is shown and you have to identify them by name.
  • Pay Attention: An audio clip is played and then you have to answer a detail about it.

Basic Strategy

As noted, a gyroscope moves you around between each question. In tracking this (check the stats below), it takes between 7 and 13 seconds. There is no travel time for the first question. That means you can count on roughly 110 seconds “lost” to travel time. That leaves around 16 seconds per question. So if someone is pacing themselves, that is definitely the pace to aim for. Since missing a question is so costly, it’s worth being sure first. We’ll talk a few of the puzzle types in each contestant write up, but it’s also definitely a good idea to talk aloud and knowing as many mnemonic tricks is key as the memory category is a killer!

Meta Notes

Based on some reading and Chris Yeh’s podcast on the first episode, it’s revealed many of the contestants entered this contest “blind” as to the exact challenges. So if the show progresses, it’ll be easier for veterans to game challenges. For instance, the key thing to remember in the Name Dropper challenge is the face. Joey, see below, wisely aloud used key phrases like color of the bowling ball his people were holding, but it was for naught.

I’ll also say I can tell that annoyingly TV probably doesn’t do Ava (the gyroscope) justice. I was wondering how fast it would whip the contestants around. It doesn’t look too bad on the screen, but I’m willing to bet it’s much scarier in person. Not sure going forward a better cinematic way to convey this, but figured I’d throw that thought out there.

Stats Notes

I kept track of each contestant, how long they took on their challenges, and the challenge type. Eventually I may try and do snazzier graphics, bur for my first post, boring tables it shall be. Stats to keep in mind.

  • Travel Time: How much time it took Ava to move the contestant to a tower.
  • Start Time: What the timer was at when the card with the clue is visible to the contestant.
  • End Time: The pillars seem to flash green when Rob Lowe verifies a contestant’s answer. The time when this happens.
  • Category: One of the four categories listed.
  • Subcategory: See above.
  • Time to Complete: I noted this and marked when it took a contestant longer than 16 seconds to answer, as that is the theoretical pace, in theory, to win.

Obviously, this is just me watching and eyeballing it. I didn’t use a stopwatch or go super in depth. In some cases the camera obfuscates the timer, so I did my best in these cases. I’ll note them. Onward.

Megan Gage

25-year-old Graphics Designer. Went to Stanford but flunked out in her last semester.

# Category Subcategory Travel Time Start Time End Time Time to Complete
1 Sequence Alpha Order 0 300 287 13
2 Knowledge Initial Impression 7 280 265 15
3 Memory Echo Chamber 5 260 247 13
4 Knowledge Double Crossed 7 240 226 14
5 Knowledge Reality Check 13 213 204 9
6 Sequence Record Breaker 11 193 173 20
7 Memory Mind Field 8 165 152 13
  1. Was to list the order of three balls: baseball, volleyball, basketball.
  2. Jennifer Anniston and William Shatner = JAWS
  3. Repeat a sequence of four words. The words were burger, fries, soda.
  4. Nick Cannon from two crossword style clues.
  5. The Lincoln Memorial with a photoshopped eagle.
  6. Arrange Chicago, Miami, and New York by number of skyscrapers.
  7. An Owl in the #2 position.

Megan kept up a great pace and was well ahead of schedule. She ran into what we’ll discover is one of the cruelest towers and cruelest puzzles: the Memory Mind Field. As I noted, I could see this puzzle being easier to crack if the show sticks around and it stays in rotation, but it definitely knocked Megan off a good run.

Clayton Anderson

59-year-old retired astronaut. He also wrote a kid’s book!

# Category Subcategory Travel Time Start Time End Time Time to Complete
1 Puzzles Oddball 0 300 291 9
  1. Identify which of four spinning clocks is unlike the others. The difference is the placement of the hour hand.

Without a doubt the hardest question in this episode. I was shocked by hard this task was, especially relative to some of the others. Chris Yeh on his podcast interviews Clayton and jokes Clayton is TV Trope – the Sacrifical Lion. If Clayton comes back for a redemption arc and goes down fast again, it’ll be the Worf Effect!

Donovan Hand

32-year-old former MLB pitcher. Go Brewers!

# Category Subcategory Travel Time Start Time End Time Time to Complete
1 Knowledge Toss Up 0 300 288 12
2 Sequence Alpha Order 7 281 265 16
3 Memory Chat Attack 10 255 243 12
  1. Smokey the Bear prevents forest fires.
  2. Put knife, plate, spoon (based on images) in order.
  3. A Tweet about a vacation has the hashtag #CABO. Misses by guessing they are in Cancun.

A quick exit. Donovan answers a straightforward question too quickly and knows immediately he’s wrong. In Chris Yeh’s podcast Clayton Anderson actually says he cautioned Donovan to take it slow. Dang!

Joey Gutmann

29-year-old attorney. He has also been on Jeopardy and “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”

# Category Subcategory Travel Time Start Time End Time Time to Complete
1 Knowledge Snap Shot 0 300 290 10
2 Sequence Measure Up 8 282 267 15
3 Memory Chat Attack 9 258 236 22
4 Puzzles Missing Piece 8 228 216 12
5 Memory Pay Attention 7 209 193 16
6 Sequence Time Warp 8 185 166 19
7 Knowledge Toss Up 7 159 151 8
8 Puzzles Compound Fracture 9 142 131 11
9 Sequence Striking Distance 8 123 110 13
10 Memory Name Dropper 9 101 123 18
  1. Stevie Wonder and Woman symbol = Wonder Woman
  2. Six inches, two feet, a yard.
  3. Count the number of Zs in the sentence: “I’m so tired today, I feel like I could snooze all day.”
  4. Missing piece
  5. Sentence with the word “jellyfish” as the first item in the list.
  6. List NBA players in order of draft year: Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James
  7. PIN stands for Personal Identification Number.
  8. Class____ and ____Mate are connected by Room!
  9. Sort from west to east – Cancun, Mexico, Honolulu, USA and Kingston, Jamaica.
  10. Name Mabel. He misses :(

An amazing run and as I noted above, I think had Joey known the specific game, he’d have done even better. In his interview with Chris he even opines had he spent a little more time thinking, he might have figured it out. To rub salt in the wound, I’ll note he was easily up on time. Oh well!

Becky Eldridge

46-year-old writer. Her backstory is she just lost her mother.

# Category Subcategory Travel Time Start Time End Time Time to Complete
1 Sequence Alpha Order 0 300 279 21
2 Memory Pay Attention 9 270 250 20
3 Knowledge Snap Shot 8-10? 240-242? 228 12-14
4 Puzzles Wordnado 8 220 213 7
5 Memory Mind Field 10 203 174 29
6 Puzzles Mirror Mirror 8 166  142 14
7 Knowledge Fact Find 7 135 124 11
8 Sequence Back Order 7 117 99 18
9 Memory Blackout 9 90 69 21
10 Puzzles Gridlock 9 60 49 11
11 Knowledge Special Equation 7 42 24 18
12 Sequence Record Breaker 11 13 1 12
  1. List bacon, lettuce, tomato in alphabetical order.
  2. Audio clip where the answer is the boxer’s nickname is “TKO.”
  3. Handmaid’s Tale from three images. Camera obfuscated timer, so estimates above.
  4. Saxophone!
  5. Jump Rope in spot 6.
  6. Mirror image of a license plate.
  7. HOG is the symbol for Harley Davidson.
  8. Put three words from the poem “Jack and Jill” in order they appear in the poem.
  9. Remember a bungie jumper was giving thumbs up in a video.
  10. Find three types of makeup in a letter jumble.
  11. What is the total of highest legal dice roll from two dice plus number of face cards in a deck (24).
  12. List Broadway shows by number of performances (Phantom of the Opera, Lion King, and Mama Mia)

A nail biter where Becky comes up just short. An auspicious honor is that she spent too long, arguably, on half her questions. Still. the first contestant we saw reach the last hurdle.

Sam Durbin

27-year-old Trucking Sales Executive. Is also the hit drag queen Briawna Banana (pronounced bah-nahnah)

He noted he’d never live this down if he got it wrong on Chris Yeh’s podcast.
# Category Subcategory Travel Time Start Time End Time Time to Complete
1 Puzzles Missing Piece 0 300 293 7
2 Knowledge Toss Up 10 283 269 14
3 Sequence Time Warp 7 262 247 15
4 Memory Hear Say 8 239 224 15
5 Sequence Alpha Order 10 214 202 12
6 Memory Mind Field 9 193 178 15
7 Puzzles Mirror Mirro 8 170 157 13
8 Knowledge Fact Finder 7 150 138 12
9 Puzzles Grid Lock 9 129 90 39
10 Memory Chat Attack 9 81 67 14
11 Sequence Striking Distance 8 59 31 18
12 Knowledge True Lies 8 23 13 10
  1. Missing puzzle piece image
  2. Who is married to Daniel Craig? Rachel Weisz.
  3. Arrange drinks by year they were introduced: Cocoa Cola, Mountain Dew, Red Bull.
  4. Played a dog, jackhammer, and a saw. Asked which sound came first (Dog)
  5. List three numbers in alphabetical order (sixteen, seventeen, eighteen)
  6. Police Badge in the 4 spot.
  7. License plate mirror image.
  8. What designer shoes does Cardi B reference in her song?
  9. Find three trees in a letter jumble. Theme is trees.
  10. How many times does the number two show up in a text message? (3)
  11. List west to east: Leaning Tower of Pisa, Acropolis, Kremlin.
  12. Is Krypton on the Periodic Table of Elements? Yes.

An absolutely amazing run. Sam is definitely the most charismatic contestant on this week’s show and keeps up an amazing attitude while playing. He only really got bogged down looking for the word “OAK” in the Grid Lock challenge but was otherwise perfect. Onto the bonus challenges:

# Category Subcategory Travel Time Start Time End Time Time to Complete
13 Knowledge Toss Up 0 143 133 10
14 Memory Name Dropper 10 123 57 26
15 Sequence Record Breaker 9 48 26 12
  1. Which river flows south to north. The Nile and Mississippi are options. Answer is the Nile.
  2. Chad!
  3. Arrange in order of box office grosses: Bruce Willis, Johnny Depp, Robert Downy Jr., and Samuel Jackson.

And like Becky, Sam goes down to Record Breaker. He pockets $50,000 and will be back due to being the best performance of the night. Can’t wait!

Summing Up

Alright, there are the “boxscores” of the week for Mental Samurai. Chris Yeh is set to make his appearance April 30th. We got some brief glimpses of him on this week’s show, but no definitive clues as to how he fares. We’ll keep watching and I should be back next week with more stats.

-Dre

Mariano Rivera and why the Naismith Hall of Fame is a sham.

100%

Mariano Rivera has been elected to Cooperstown (the baseball hall of fame). For those that don’t know, Rivera is probably the greatest relief pitcher in MLB history. I certainly don’t have a problem with Rivera making the Hall of Fame or being a unanimous decision. But he now holds the honor of being the first unanimous first-ballot Hall of Famer in baseball history, and that brings up two problems.

What the hell Baseball?

Mike Greenberg at ESPN actually summed up my issue amazingly well. Namely, how the hell did no one else in the history of baseball get a unanimous vote? Ken Griffey Jr. missed a 100% score by three votes. Babe effing Ruth missed by nine. In a revelation that will shock no one, voters of accolades for professional sports aren’t always the best. And with that, lets get back to basketball.

Here’s the clip from Mike Greenberg.

Baseball vs. Basketball

Mixing the two has bizarre results.

This is a subject I’ve talked about before. It’s no secret I’m jealous of how the baseball mainstream, relative to basketball, embraced much better analytical thinking. And Rivera is a great example why. A standard baseball player is quite similar to an NBA player. A standard hitter in baseball plays both offense and defense. The only major difference relative to basketball is their offensive contribution is governed. In basketball, a player like James Harden can essentially take all the shots. In baseball the most a batter is able to do is take one-ninth of the outs. But baseball gets interesting with pitchers.

Pitchers don’t play every game. And Rivera was a reliever, which means he only came in for the last inning or two when games were close. Here’s a decent set of comparisons. Rivera played 19 seasons with the Yankees, in that he played in 1,115 games for a total of 1,283.2 innings pitched.

Derek Jeter, another Yankees great played 20 seasons with the Yankees. He suited up for 2,747 games! Any Pettitte was a starting pitcher for the Yankees that overlapped a lot of the time with Rivera. In a total of fifteen seasons with the Yankees, Pettite pitched 2,796.1 innings.

Yankees Dynasty

My point here is that in the language of the NBA, Rivera would be called a “role player.” He didn’t play as many games as standard starter (of course, most pitchers don’t). As a reliever he didn’t pitch as many innings as a standard pitcher. But Rivera had a very specific role — throw an unhittable pitch so well that the Yankees were always in it at the end. And, of course, this helped the Yankees win games. And as a unanimous decision shows, baseball fans recognize Rivera’s contributions too. Back to basketball.

The Naismith Hall of Fame is a sham!

“Role Player”

Rivera could rightly be called the greatest role player in baseball history. Let’s talk a similar player in the NBA. Dennis Rodman is perhaps the best “role player” in NBA history. After his second season in the NBA, Dennis Rodman never averaged more than 6.5 shots a game in his career. But what he did do was rebound and defend. Despite only being 6-7, which is quite undersized for a Power Forward/Center, Dennis Rodman led the league in rebounding seven straight seasons from 1992 to 1998. He also won back to back Defensive Player of the Year Awards in 1990 and 1991. He made eight straight All-Defense squads and was a member of five title squads.

Like Rivera, Dennis Rodman did a very important job better than anyone in the league. And Dennis Rodman did make the Hall of Fame … in his second year of eligibility. In baseball, Rivera became the first unanimous first ballot member. Dennis Rodman had to take two tries to get in, despite dominating an apsect of the sport like no one has since. 538 writer Ben Morris gained notoriety in NBA analytics circles for his large treatise on just how amazing Dennis Rodman was, and it took many many words to explain!

Sadly, Dennis Rodman is not even the most egregious aspect of the Naismith Hall of Fame. No, that honor goes to Ben Wallace. Ben Wallace is one of only two four-time Defensive Player of the Year winners in NBA history. He also made six straight All-Defensive squads, as well as five All-NBA teams. And, of yeah, he also made it to four straight All-Star games, getting the second most votes of a starter in 2006. Ben Wallace was part of a Pistons squad that made four straight Eastern Conference Finals, back to back Finals, and won a title so hard it broke up Shaq and Kobe (he lead all players in rebounds that Finals too)

Unlike baseball, Rodman and Wallace aren’t questions for how close to unanimously their accolades are celebrated. Instead, they’re questions of if they belong at all. Rodman made the Hall of Fame in 2011, four years after the first Sloan Analytics conference. Ben Wallace has been eligible for three years now and is still not in the Hall.

One is in, one isn’t.

In NBA history there have been nine players that have won the Defensive Player of the Year multiple times. Seven have been eligible for the Hall of Fame (Dwight Howard(3) and Kawhi Leonard(2) are both locks for first-ballot) Only three names made first ballot (Hakeem Olajuwon, Alonzo Mourning, and Dikembe Mutombo), Dennis Rodman made secondballot, and three aren’t in (Sidney Moncrief, Mark Eaton, and Ben Wallace)

The fact that the first Defensive Player of the Year in NBA history (well, first back to back Defensive Player of the Year, in fact) isn’t in the Naismith Hall of Fame is a travesty. In fact, for a sport trying to embrace the “Analytics Movement”, I argue the Hall’s blind spot for recognized defensive greats is an embarrassment. I’m biased but I think basketball is an infinitely better sport than baseball. That said, I’m ashamed at how much baseball is lapping the NBA in regards to recognizing its greats. Do better basketball voters, do better.

-Dre

Is Janet the Answer to “The Good Place”

First off, spoilers! If you’re not caught up on “The Good Place,” first, why the heck now? Second, stop reading if you don’t want spoilers. On with the show.

The Good Place is an awesome show that deals with morality and ethics. And one of the underlying premises is the idea of if fundamentally bad — or perhaps more accurately put, flawed — people can change. And in season 3 of the Good Place, Michael, a demon, and an all-knowing judge are involved in an experiment to test just that. Let’s do a quick “last week on the Good Place” just for context.

Recap

In the universe of the Good Place, there is a system that tracks all actions of humans on earth. At the time of their death, the sum of their actions dictates if they were a good or bad person and whether they go to the Good Place or the Bad Place.

There are multiple good and bad places (called neighborhoods), and each neighborhood has an architect that builds them. Each neighborhood has, what seems to be kind of an operating system, called Janet, that runs them and can also work as an informational database. Janets are sentient. More on them soon.

Michael is a Bad place architect that has built a neighborhood designed to torture four humans psychologically. The trick is they are supposed to believe they are in the Good Place, but due to their contrasting personalities, they will torture each other.

This plan fails as the humans realize they are in the Bad Place and bond with each other. One of the humans, Chidi Anagonye, is an ethics professor and teaches the humans how to become better.

Michael, having failed at his plan, teams up with the humans. Their new plan is to become better people (and demon) and get into the Good Place.

They meet a judge, who decides who can go to the Good Place, and convince her to let the humans go back to earth in an alternate timeline. If they can prove they can become better, they will go to the Good Place. As of season one of episode three, it appears to be going poorly. Michael is convinced this is because the humans improved each other and need each other to become better people. I have a contrasting theory. The reason the humans got better in the Bad Place was because of Janet!

More on Janet

As mentioned Janet is the operating system that runs the subsection of both the Good place and the Bad place. However, there are two flavors it seems. The Good Place Janet is friendly and designed to help people, even to her detriment (think Asimov’s laws of robotics). The Bad Place Janet is mean and cruel and seems designed to antagonize humans.

Because his neighborhood was a ruse, Michael stole a Good Place Janet to run it. And I think that’s key. Here’s some more information we glean about Janet as the show goes on.

When Janet’s are rebooted, they gain more knowledge and abilities. Over the course of the show, Michael keeps rebooting the neighborhood as the humans discover they are in the Bad Place. By the time he joins forces with them, the neighborhood has been rebooted over 800 times. This leads our Janet to believe she may be the most advanced Janet ever.

Good Place Janets are designed to help humans, possibly even to a fault. At one point our heroes have to sneak through the Bad Place in disguise. Janet’s disguise is to be a bad Janet. To test her, they ask her to refuse to help. Their initial simple task is to ask for a glass of water. Janet struggles to do this.

Our Janet also doesn’t know she is in the Bad Place initially. Michael convinced her she is in a Good Place neighborhood, that is just different than ones she is used to.

Our Janet has feelings, a subconscious and memory, even after she is rebooted. One storyline has Janet marry Jason Mendoza. However, when all the humans’ memories are wiped and Janet is rebooted, seemingly no one remembers, except, of course, for Michael. Jason winds up in a new relationship with Tehani Al Jamil. Through sitcom logic, Janet winds up being a relationship counselor for Jason and Tehani. However, she starts glitching, and we realize it’s because she is jealous of Tehani because she’s in love with Jason. She also develops a close friendship with Michael.

Putting it Altogether

While it’s very straightforward, let’s put our pieces together. Janet is designed to help humans, and our humans are bad people. Because she is rebooted so many times, she becomes increasingly advanced. Even if she can’t consciously remember, she subconsciously knows our humans are in the Bad Place and have to become better people to escape (as does Michael) In the first episode of season three, we see Michael nudging the humans after their initial tries at becoming better fail. However, what’s essential is Janet is there with him monitoring the humans. And Janet nudges Michael.

As I mentioned, Michael has a theory that the humans can become better people. And his theory is that instead of torturing each other, the humans helped each other, and so the solution is to bring the humans altogether, which happens at the end of episode one of season three. However, I’d argue that the one constant for the humans has been an increasingly improving Janet. And from the beginning, she’s been helping the humans. In the first iteration of the neighborhood, she gets them a train to the Medium Place. She passes Elanor a message from her previously reboooted self. She even learns to act badly to save Michael, who is then able to argue to the judge on behalf of the humans. My theory is that it’s not the humans’ bonds with each other that is making them better. I argue it’s the sentient operating system designed to help them. And in an era of Black Mirror style sci-fi arguing the perils of ever-increasing technology, I actually find something optimistic and encouraging about Janet. At least for now, we’ll have to see where season three takes her!

-Dre

Serena Williams and Slap Shot 2: A Lesson in “Fairness”

Recently Serena Williams lost in the US Open finals. Up and comer Naomi Osaka beat the greatest tennis player in what should be a possible passing of the torch in women’s tennis. The story, however, is that Serena Williams was penalized a point, and then later a game for arguing with the umpire. Serena Williams has gone on to claim the umpires are sexist and have a double standard compared to male athletes. I agree. And while I’ve seen some flock around the defense of the umpires “following the rules,” I figured I’d use one of the worst movies ever to make a point about that line of thinking in double standard scenarios.

Slap Shot 2: Dear God, Why did they make this?

Slap Shot 2 is the story about a minor league hockey team in financial trouble (like the original Slap Shot). The team finds itself acquired by an eccentric rich man who wants to put on wholesome hockey for his son. As a result, he creates a Harlem Globetrotter-esque scenario where the Chiefs play the role of the Washington Generals.

However, the Chiefs decide they want to play real hockey. After giving up many goals to their rivals in a game, they start playing for real. They end up winning the game proving a minor league team with former NHL players can indeed win a hockey game against another minor league team. Dear god, why did they make this movie?

One essential part about the pivotal game is that the Chiefs are down many goals (I couldn’t find how many and I refuse to pay for this movie) because like professional wrestling they are scripted to look bad and decide to play for real. When this happens, their coach informs the scorekeepers to reset the score 0-0. And this is important. In an already unbelievable movie — one of the subplots is that Stephen Baldwin was kicked out of the NHL for missing a vital shot in the Finals, which lead some to believe he was paid to throw games — Slap Shot 2 felt it important to stress that even playing good hockey, a team down a lot couldn’t come back in a period.

John McEnroe and “Good” Outbursts

Back to tennis! John McEnroe is a Hall of Fame tennis player. He is a nine-time Grand Slam winner, and depending on which list you use, places top 5 to top 10 in career wins in men’s tennis. That said, McEnroe is more well known for his outbursts and tantrums on the tennis courts. And one way we know this is that McEnroe has capitalized on this.

I found a 2017 commercial where McEnroe references one of his famous outbursts (“You cannot be serious!”)

Even Wimbledon’s own site has this clip fondly.

And for what it’s worth, McEnroe himself agrees there is a double standard in regards to the recent Serena debate. So back to the original debate.

Let’s assume you want to side with the argument – Serena Williams broke the rules and was wrong. And the tennis umpires are right, and regardless of what has happened in the past, they were right here. Even one of the worst sports movies ever understands if you give one side a huge lead and then decide to enforce the rules fairly for both sides, it’s still unfair for the team that’s been having goals scored on it. You cannot forget the years of tennis where the same behavior has been excused or awarded to the men, while chastised to the women. Even one of the worst sports movies ever understood this logic. And here’s hoping that tennis can too. Of course, as of this writing, various umpires are debating whether to boycott Serena’s games, so I won’t hold my breath.

-Dre

Q&A with Professor David Berri: The Fastpitch and the NBA Playoffs

Holy cats, our podcast with Dave Berri returns. For those that don’t know, Wages of Wins founder David Berri writes regularly for Forbes now (forbes.com/sites/davidberri) and he comes on weekly to talk his recent pieces. Since we’re catching up, we cram a lot in.

Sources

Please subscribe to Channel NerdNumbers on YouTube and like us on iTunes!

You can download the show direct here.

Video Show

Dave talks about the National Pro Fastpitch draft, both a preview and a review. As Dave notes, there are five teams, so they drafted pretty well.

Dave also tells an old story about the NFL draft, no one has any idea about how good any QB will be. As Dave notes, this has never been a popular story. People don’t like being told no one knows it seems.

We talk Dave’s article about NCAA “cheating” by paying athletes is a ludicrous idea.

We talk a fair bit about the NBA and NBA Playoffs. Dave put up his first round predictions and got 7 of 8 correctly. It turns out in the NBA picking the better team to win is often a good strategy. We may get a post out of his second round projections. Dave did post his projections for the series before they started:

Do want to throw out one of my old pieces on how the Mavericks 2011 Finals win wasn’t about clever lineup schemes as much as Dwyane Wade getting injured at a pivotal time.

We ask an important question: Has Carmelo Anthony read and used the Wages of Wins as a model for how to maximize his career earnings.

Fun Easter egg, our internet connection failed in the middle of the recording, so I had to cut out some dead space, see if you can find where! (It’s pretty obvious)

Follow Dave

Dave’s Forbes’ site is: forbes.com/sites/davidberri

Dave’s Twitter is: @wagesofwins

Dave’s textbook ” Sports Economics” has its own blog: https://community.macmillan.com/people/david.berri/content

-Dre

The Boxscore Geeks Show: Should Lonzo Ball win Rookie of the Year over Donovan Mitchell?

Penultimate Lakers fan Chris Yeh returns to discuss Lonzo Ball’s excellent rookie performance and why the Lakers are in a fantastic spot. We also randomly discuss NBA players out of time in their eras. Tune in!

Hosts

Sources

You can watch us live at twitch.tv/nerdnumbers; we usually go Wednesday at 9:30 pm EST. Follow us on Twitter, and we’ll keep you posted!

Please subscribe to Channel NerdNumbers on YouTube and like us on iTunes!

You can download the show direct here.

Video Show


Show Notes

Chris Yeh is an Angel Investor in Silicon Valley with years of experience in the tech scene. He’s co-author of the New York Times bestseller “The Alliance,” which I argue every NBA GM should have on their bookshelf. His new book “Blitzscaling” comes out in October, and you can already preorder it!

Ethan Strauss named the “Yay! Points!” thesis almost eight years ago. Donovan Mitchell is proof it’s alive and well. Chris elaborates that iso jump shooting is overrated as an NBA skill.

Lonzo Ball was already a better rookie than LeBron James early in the season. He’s only improved since then!

This may now be the most “popular” Tweet I’ve ever written that is liked by one of the athletes it is about.

Something we should stress: the goal of professional athletes is to make a living playing sport. As Jalen Rose noted: “give the people what they want!” (h/t Chris for that reference) Donovan Mitchell knows scoring will get him paid. So while we might be critical of his production, we can’t fault what he’s doing from an economic standpoint.

The NBA landscape is changing, with a premium being given for three-point shooters. We can’t help but think of players from other eras that would be completely different in the modern NBA. Chris brings up Drazen Petrovic. I’ve already talked the Dallas Mavericks with Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki. And, of course, John Stockton could have been Curry but with better defense!

Chris shouts out the incredible “Lakers Film Room” YouTube channel, which provides excellent analysis of the Lakers.

A sports metaphor that comes up on this show I love: Chris Paul is the Rickie Henderson of the NBA.

We talk how the Lakers have a fantastic young core (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma) ready for two max contract players, which they have space for this upcoming offseason. Our suggestion? LeBron James and DeAndre Jordan.

Remember when the Knicks signed Amare Stoudemire to try and entice LeBron James to join them? Here’s hoping the Lakers do better!

We talk Gasol vs. Gasol! Shockingly even at this age, Pau is still the better one.

Chris gives a fun tank throwback to Mark Madsen with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Tune in for all that and more! Chris is one of the most knowledgeable Lakers fans you’ll ever hear, so it’s worth your time.

Seeya next week!

-Dre

Is “Major League” the best “Based on a True Story” Movie?

I’m a huge fan of sports movies. And, of course, many sports movies take their cue from reality. One of the most infamous types is the “Based on a True Story.” Of course, how accurate any of these vary. And regardless of how true the story is, many edit or inflate the story to add dramatization. There is one movie, that is “pure fiction” though that has so many true to life elements, I just had to talk about it. That movie, as you know from the title, is “Major League.” Major League tells the story of the Cleveland [Seriously it’s been 20 years they’re still called this?] baseball team and their owner Rachel Phelps. Here are three ways Rachel Phelps is “Based on a True Story.”

3.) Rachel Phelps is Billy Beane … a decade early

Alright, Billy Beane didn’t become general manager of the Oakland Athletics until 1998 and Major League came out in 1989. So, it’s hard to say it was based on reality. That said the plot of the two is very similar. A team in a depressed market struggles to compete against teams with larger payrolls. By acquiring undervalued assets that don’t look like conventional players, somehow a scrappy team is able to compete, but sadly unable to win in the playoffs. And, it turns out this was actually the “original script” to Major League. The plot we are given is that owner Rachel Phelps plans to tank the Cleveland season for nefarious reasons — we’ll get back to that shortly. However, that’s just a line she feeds the boardroom. Her team is actually cash-strapped, so the only way to compete is to look for undervalued players. There was a scene originally in the movie about this, but it didn’t screen well with audiences so it was cut.

Speaking of that scene

2.) Rachel Phelps is Herb Brooks

Another one of my favorite “Based on a True Story” movies is “Miracle. We’re told the thrilling tale of how the 1980s US Hockey team defeated the unbeatable Soviets. Part of the story is that the US players have a lot of animosity towards each other as many are from rival colleges. Of course, the US is also having a lot of strife at the time, so it’s hard to get the players to gel. US coach Herb Brooks decides the best way for his team to get along is to have a common enemy — him! He is cold and distant to the players, and sometimes sadistic, including making them do sprints after a disappointing exhibition game. Rachel Phelps, who we already know is on the team’s side, is the same way. She’s overtly antagonistic to the team. She seemingly does spiteful things like restricting access to the team plane and take away equipment. The team unites around proving Phelps wrong, so the plan works! The scene showing how this works doesn’t age well though …

1.) Rachel Phelps is Clay Bennett

Admitted this is the weirdest entry. As mentioned, the original ending to Major League was changed after test screenings. As such the plot we’re given is Rachel Phelps inherits a team in a market she doesn’t like. She plans to tank the season so bad that a clause in her contract allows her to relocate the team to Miami. As this was a feel-good movie, of course, that doesn’t happen. Reality can be much crueler. Clay Bennett acquired the Seattle Supersonics and said he planned to keep them in Seattle. However, he then traded away their good pieces and demanded stadium renovations from Seattle. When, shockingly, Seattle didn’t want to pay money for a bad team, Clay relocated the team to his home state of Oklahoma. And oddly, Clay’s real-world story starts drifting into Major League’s universe even more. In Major League II, despite being a contender, Cleveland’s money woes cause them to lose one of their stars. Because Bennett relocated to OKC, he ended up letting James Harden go over money. At least both Cleveland and OKC did make the finals once in their respective universes.

Did Major League Predict the future?

When I set about to write this piece my thesis was of course how much Major League copied reality. Of course, date checking everything shows it’s the other way around. I guess I’ll go rewatch the movie to see what else I should expect! Anyway, until next time.

-Dre

The Boxscore Geeks Show: Another MIT Sloan Analytics in the Tank.

Wow, another long one! We talk my time at the 2018 MIT Sloan Analytics Conference, tanking in the NBA, the NCAA controversy (the most recent one, maybe?), and some around the NBA team talk.

Hosts

Sources

You can watch us live at twitch.tv/nerdnumbers; we usually go Wednesday at 9:30 pm EST. Follow us on Twitter, and we’ll keep you posted!

Please subscribe to Channel NerdNumbers on YouTube and like us on iTunes!

You can download the show direct here.

Video Show


Show Notes

I attended the MIT Sloan Analytics Conference and had some thoughts, tune in to hear. If you want another fantastic analyst’s thoughts on the state of Sloan, check out Cleaning the Glass’ write up here.

I’m pretty proud that this happened.

Brian notes that sadly, Hinkie is likely not going to be back in the NBA anytime soon.

The NBA is warning teams against tanking. Any fan of behavioral psychology probably has some bad news for them.

We talk about the most recent NCAA scandal. Lots of people agree the notion that paying athletes is fine. We review Stan Van Gundy’s take.

As Shaun King notes, no joke, the NCAA has basically compared “student-athletes” to prison labor.

We discuss a few teams in the NBA including the Wizards, Nuggets, and Bucks.

Seeya next week!

-Dre

The Charles Babbage Basketball Prediction Problem

Charles Babbage is one of the pioneers of modern-day computing. In the 1800s he came up with the idea for a computer when such a thing was a far-off pipe dream. And as often happens with explaining fancy new future technology, some of the questions he got were odd. One of my favorite quotes about this was:

On two occasions I have been asked, — “Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?” In one case a member of the Upper, and in the other a member of the Lower, House put this question. I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.

Source: Wikiquote

I think about this quote a lot when it comes to sports predictions. As fans of the Boxscore Geeks or Wages of Wins will know, I have slowly adopted Dave Berri’s distaste for preseason predictions, primarily as “proof” of anything. And one of the biggest issues I have is encapsulated in the Babbage quote above. You see, when it comes to preseason prognostications, one can put in the wrong inputs and get the “right” outputs.

For example, when we first started the Boxscore Geeks we took on the audacious task of projecting the entire NBA season. We included our projections for every player’s minutes and performance in the NBA and got a win estimate for every NBA team as a result. And here’s the thing, while that’s a fun exercise, it goes off the rails quickly. Let’s use the current NBA season as an example. Here’s a list of teams that had a significant change to their roster either via injury or player movement. The list is not all-inclusive.

  • The Boston Celtics lost Gordon Hayward for the entire NBA season a mere one game into the season.
  • The Chicago Bulls “stars” Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic got into a fight two days before the NBA season started. Mirotic missed two months with a broken jaw. Portis was out eight games with a suspension. Eventually, the Bulls traded Mirotic at the trade deadline.
  • The Clevland Cavaliers did a complete overhaul of their roster at the trade deadline that saw Dwyane Wade, Channing Frye, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Derrick Rose, Iman Shumpert leave and brought back George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson, and Larry Nance Jr. Additionally, Kevin Love is out six to eight weeks with a broken hand.
  • The Denver Nuggets recently acquired thirty-million dollar a year man Paul Millsap went down in November and will be out until at least March!
  • The Detroit Pistons had a blockbuster trade deadline trade for Blake Griffin.
  • The Los Angeles Clippers traded away Blake Griffin at the trade deadline.
  • The Los Angeles Lakers traded away Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson for Channing Frye and Isaiah Thomas.
  • The Memphis Grizzlies have lost Mike Conley for the season.
  • The Milwaukee Bucks traded Greg Monroe for Eric Bledsoe a month into the season. Additionally, Malcolm Brogdon is out for six to eight weeks with a tendon injury. Jason Kidd was also fired midseason if you believe coaching matters.
  • The New Orleans Pelicans have lost Demarcus Cousins for the season. They also acquired Nikola Mirotic at the trade deadline.
  • The New York Knicks have lost All-Star Kristaps Porzingis for the season with a knee injury.
  • The Oklahoma City Thunder have lost underrated guard Andre Roberson for the season.
  • The Orlando Magic traded Elfrid Payton for a second-round pick at the trade deadline. Also, Aaron Gordon has almost missed twenty games with various injuries.
  • The Philadelphia 76ers number one draft pick Markelle Fultz is out for the season (I believe.)
  • The Phoenix Suns traded Eric Bledsoe for Greg Monroe. They have since waived Greg Monroe. They also acquired Elfrid Payton at the trade deadline.
  • The Sacramento Kings traded away George Hill at the trade deadline.
  • The San Antonio Spurs have been with Kawhi Leonard for most of the season, and his timetable to return is unknown.
  • The Utah Jazz traded Rodney Hood for Jae Crowder and lost Thabo Sefolosha for the season.
  • The Washington Wizards are without All-Star point guard John Wall for six to eight weeks for knee surgery.

I’ve left out unexpected changes in performance, surprising rookie performances, etc. Regardless, this season I count nineteen teams that due to either injury or trade had a significant difference to their roster from the start of the year. And that means whatever inputs any of us had for our projections to the NBA season are now entirely different from what’s going on now. Of course, many of us can be “right” in regards to the outcome at the end of the season. My example, for instance, is one could have predicted Boston would win over 55 games this season and credit Gordon Hayward. They are well on their way to that, but Hayward is not a direct factor.

If we’re honest with ourselves, the prediction we made to start the season was answering an entirely different question. And the critical part of this is that this season isn’t an outlier. Every NBA season there are severe injuries that impact teams. Teams are always allowed to trade and waive players. The NBA is huge in that one or two players can completely change how a team does. It doesn’t mean we should stop trying to predict what’s going to happen. We should just acknowledge that by the time the NBA season wraps up, what we thought to start the season has little to do with what the NBA looks like at the end.

-Dre

The Boxscore Geeks Show: Ripping up my Prediction on the Cavaliers

Wow, another long one! We have to backtrack and explain how the trade deadline immediately made las week’s show obsolete. We talk the Bucks and their analytics squad. And of course we talk more about the Twin Galaxies controversies (and kind of tie it back to sports and esports, I swear!) Tune in!

Hosts

Sources

You can watch us live at twitch.tv/nerdnumbers; we usually go Wednesday at 9:30 pm EST. Follow us on Twitter, and we’ll keep you posted!

Please subscribe to Channel NerdNumbers on YouTube and like us on iTunes!

You can download the show direct here.

Video Show


The NBA transactions at basketball-reference.

An article at the Journal Sentinel about the Bucks and their analytics department.

Are video game records broken?

-Dre

p.s. We’ll talk more about this next week I’m sure, but as we recorded the show, Jokic recorded the fastest triple-double in NBA history, which I’m preemptively calling the boxscore of the year.