Yes Jam

Last Sunday, Chris Squire, best known as the bass player for the band Yes, lost his battle with leukemia. Although the band underwent periods of lineup changes, you have never heard Yes without Squire, in part because of the value of his prominent playing style, and in part because of his controlling legal interest in the band’s name. As we prepare to honor the birth of a nation stateside, in memory of Squire, we take a moment to turn our ears back to England, to which we are forever tied:

Window Shopping: We Got Robbed

The Detroit Tigers shot out to a hot start in 2015, but things have not been too good for Detroit since then. They’ve won just five of their last thirteen series. The team’s active six-game losing streak is its longest in four seasons.

The title of this year’s serial Tigers feature at this site, Window Shopping, comes from the common theme of Detroit season previews that, with respect to a World Series championship, the team was trying to keep open its “window of opportunity,” assuming that proverbial window had not already slammed shut under the weight of expensive long-term contracts, aging players, and perceived defensive burdens.

After the last month and a half, though, it is as if these window shoppers, gazing upon the Commissioner’s Trophy in a fancy Harrod’s storefront display (did we fight the Revolution for nothing??), reached into their back pockets in consideration of making the eventual purchase, only to find they suddenly had no money, no credit cards, no traveler’s checks, nothing. They’ve been robbed.

The Tigers are in a tailspin, and it isn’t exactly anyone else’s fault. Their recent struggles have come in games against teams largely regarded as mediocre or worse, including the Athletics, Angels, and Brewers. What’s happening?

After starting the season with an 11-2 record, the Tigers have gone 17-24, and their performance somehow has felt even worse. By my count, since April 21, the date they entered with that 11-2 mark, Detroit has a -19 run differential. Only two other American League teams– the White Sox and Red Sox– have worse run differentials during that period, and only one AL team, Toronto (187), has allowed more runs over that span than Detroit’s 185. Of course, the Blue Jays also scored 213 runs in those games, a number that dwarfs the Tigers’ 166 and is the most in the league. On the other hand, just seven AL teams have scored fewer than 166 runs since April 21, and two of them, Kansas City and Tampa Bay, still maintained positive run differentials. (Both Sox teams, along with Seattle, Baltimore, and Oakland round out this low-scoring group.) In terms of offense and defense (the fundamental terms of competitive team sports), it’s hard to be worse than Detroit right now.

Offense fueled the Tigers’ strong start, and its disappearance has triggered their decline. They averaged 5.38 runs per game through April 20. Since then, though, they’ve scored just 4.05 runs per game, a drop of more than a run and a third. Omit a blowout 13-1 win against the Twins on May 14, and that per-game scoring average falls to 3.83. No bueno.   Continue reading

Summer Wedding Jam

Summer wedding season is right around the corner, if it isn’t here already, and to kick it off, our own bdoyk has an article in Elle this week entitled “A Single Girl’s Guide to Surviving Wedding Season in 9 Easy Steps.” Note step five: “Commit to having a great time on the dance floor.” By way of saluting bdoyk on her article and assisting everyone in carrying out step five this summer, wherever and however attached you may be, this week’s Jam is offered, and it’s sure to have you making the right moves:

Worldwide King of the Blues Jam

Today’s Jam is dedicated to the memory of the Beale Street Blues Boy and recognized King of the Blues, B.B. King, who passed last night at the age of eighty-nine.

I was fortunate enough to hear B.B. in person on three occasions, first at Wolf Trap in Northern Virginia, then at the Stanley Theater in Utica, and finally at DeVos Hall in Grand Rapids. Presenting a rousing, engaging performance through his late seventies and early eighties, King was the consummate showman if anyone ever was.

Here he is with the great Buddy Guy, who remembered B.B. in a post early this morning:

The King is dead they say. Long live the King.

Detroit Tigers 2015 Season Preview

My own Detroit Tigers series for the upcoming season– name to be revealed in due course, but let’s just say I wish Wallside Windows would sponsor it– will be underway at this site soon. In the meantime, I have collaborated with Mark Sands to produce an extensive preview of the 2015 Detroit Tigers for Banished to the Pen, which is available today.

The full post is available here.

On the Road Again: A study of NHL rink variation

One of the important background dimensions to comparative baseball statistics is known as “park adjustments,” a set of corrective factors applied to account for the physical differences (e.g., outfield wall depth) between each park. Among American sports today, only Major League Baseball and NASCAR (and golf, I suppose) permit such structural variation between the competitive arenas themselves.

Professional hockey used to be in that group too. More than merely adjusting, adding, and subtracting lines on the ice to affect the flow of play, as the NHL continues to do (cf. the NBA three-point line), the rinks themselves used to be different sizes. League rules mandate a uniform rink size, but so-called “small rinks” persisted in the NHL as late as the 1980s and 1990s in Boston, Chicago, and Buffalo.

While hockey does not face the structural differences present in baseball, there still is a need to apply rink-by-rink statistical adjustments. That’s because the compiling of basic hockey statistics (e.g., shots, hits, turnovers) requires statisticians to make judgment calls to a more significant degree than in a discrete-event sport like baseball.

By way of limited background, the NHL collects basic gameplay statistics through a computer system known as the Real Time Scoring System (RTSS). A benefit of RTSS is that it aggregates and organizes data for analysis by teams, players, and fans. A vulnerability of RTSS is the subjectivity alluded to above that comes when human scorers track a fluid, dynamic sport like hockey.

While others have noted certain biases among the RTSS scorers at different rinks, a paper by Michael Schuckers and Brian Macdonald published earlier this month analyzes those discrepancies across a spread of core statistics and proposes a “Rink Effects” model that aims to do for subjective rink-to-rink differences in hockey scoring what park adjustments do for structural differences between baseball parks.    Continue reading

The BCS is dead they say: Long live the BCS

cfp

When the BCS died a year ago, I wrote an introduction to the College Football Playoff that, in essence, contended that we were going to miss the BCS:

With the College Football Playoff ©, we will have one thing we asked for and one thing we did not. A semifinal playoff round will precede, and determine the participants in, the national championship game. That is good, and it was a structural shortcoming of the BCS. For some reason, though, the College Football Playoff © scrapped the BCS’s rankings system in favor of a Byzantine (Soviet? Orwellian?) black box: the PolitburoSelection Committee.

Participating in the BCS is like paying your income taxes: there’s a lot of math and fine print involved, you probably can’t quite find all of the information you need to calculate the precisely correct result, and there’s that guy down the block who hollers that the thing’s unconstitutional, but you generally have a pretty good idea of your expected outcome.

On the other hand, the new playoff’s Selection Committee recalls the Supreme Court: members deliberate behind closed doors, apply any criteria of their choosing in reaching decisions, and announce those decisions under their own terms.

On Sunday, the Selection Committee spoke for the last time in its inaugural season to announce the four playoff participants: Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, and Ohio State. Two days later, everyone outside of Texas generally seems to agree that this is the right result.

The only reason the results were or remain controversial has to do with what the Selection Committee did prior to Sunday. Their flipping and flopping of TCU, with seemingly connected treatments of Baylor and Minnesota, was the genesis of the confusion, surprise, and, in Fort Worth and Waco, disappointment, that arrived with the final playoff announcement. On one hand, those confused, surprised, and disappointed feelings were unwarranted: the Committee reached the correct result. On the other hand, however, they were unnecessary and likely would not have arisen absent the lack of transparency that now characterizes the college football ranking process.

If the BCS could speak from the grave, what would it say about the CFP Selection Committee’s final result? The answer, Continue reading

Jam Faces

While he and his bands– he was a member of both Small Faces and Faces, and he played in numerous other groups, such as the Rolling Stones and his own solo band– deserve their own posts, Ian McLagan is honored and remembered in this week’s Friday Jam space. McLagan, an English keyboard player from the Booker T. Jones school, died this week. Here he is, in a YouTube greatest hit, with Faces, which, in case you didn’t recognize them, also included Rod Stewart and Ron Wood up front:

Who’s conflicted about sports? World Series of Poker edition

While the idea of writing about the cartographic results of ESPN SportsNation polls long has percolated in my mind, it (obviously to you, erstwhile ALDLAND reader) never took off. In part I suspect this is because there’s little categorical variety in the types of conclusions we ordinarily draw from these maps, those being 1) the one state associated with the obvious minority view holds out, probably irrationally, against the weight of a nationwide majority and 2) shoot, there really aren’t too many people with internet connections in Mississippi are there? After a very short time, this would become boring to read and write.

We are living in the post-peak-SportsNation world, though, which means that, if this thing’s going to work at all, we’ve got to try it now, but with a slightly different angle of approach. Instead of focusing on the people who supported a poll choice, we’ll look at those states where the voters were not able to reach consensus.

For those unfamiliar with the mechanics of these voting maps, ESPN assigns colors to each of the poll options and presents each state as the color of the option most popular among that state’s voters. Where there is a tie between leading options, however, the state appears grey. These indecisive states are the focus here.

ESPN (I assume from the existence of this poll and Norm Macdonald’s late-night tweeting) has been televising the World Series of Poker this week, and SportsNation, in a totally happenstance, non-marketing-driven poll, casually asked, “How would you rate your poker game?” Here are the results:

nv-pokerWhile we could postulate that Louisianans spend too much time playing Three-card Monte and Arkansans are just people who picked up the rudiments of poker as a post-hoc character alibi while on the run from an out-of-state murder rap, but we don’t really know any of that for certain, and it’s more– though still, extremely mildly– entertaining to note that Nevada, home to the nation’s largest casinos, has no opinion on the matter.

UPDATE: A plurality of Nevada voters now say they do not play poker at all. Click the map above to see the very latest results.