Friday, May 12, 2017

5 Things on a Friday: Heading into the Doldrums of Sport

Happy Friday, folks!
Speaking personally, this has been an incredibly busy and often hectically stressful month.  I usually enjoy May, but right now I just want to see its backside.  

A child born in the United States in 2014 can expect to live 79.1 years, on average.
But that figure doesn’t apply equally to all kids across the country. For example, a baby boy born in South Dakota’s Oglala Lakota County that year has a life expectancy of just under 62.8 years. Meanwhile, a baby girl lucky enough to be born in Summit County, Colo., can plan to live to the ripe old age of 88.5.
That’s a difference of more than 25 years. Put another way, the girl in Colorado can expect to live 41% longer than the boy in South Dakota.
What interesting here isn’t that there are differences, but that the differences are getting worse.  It’s not a surprise, per se, that people in Colorado tend to live a long time.  Much more amazing is a statistic like this:
[R]esearchers identified seven counties where the life expectancy of a child born in 2014 was at least 1% lower than it was in 1980. All were in Kentucky:
  • Estill County (where life expectancy fell by 0.7 years)
  • Powell County (where life expectancy fell by year 0.8 years)
  • Clay County (where life expectancy fell by 1 year)
  • Breathitt County (where life expectancy fell by 1 year)
  • Leslie County (where life expectancy fell by 1.4 years)
  • Lee County (where life expectancy fell by 1.5 years)
  • Owsley County (where life expectancy fell by 2.2 years)

At this rate, Kentucky is going to be a third world country by 2040 with life expectancies no better than we’d expect to see in rural Russia.  By contrast, folks in New York City have seen their life expectancies rise by nearly a decade!
Stranger Things actor David Harbour is set to star as demonic superhero Hellboy in a film version of the irreverent comic-book franchise.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, director Neil Marshall, best known for his work on Dog Soldiers, The Descent and Game of Thrones, has been lined up to direct the film, which has the working title of Hellboy: Rise of the Blood Queen. Neither Guillermo Del Toro, who directed two previous instalments of the franchise, nor Ron Perlman, who starred in the films, are involved in the new version…
Writing about the project on Facebook, original Hellboy comic creator Mike Mignola said that the new film would be an “R-rated reboot”, suggesting a more adult tone than Del Toro’s films had.
Several of the articles concerning the potential new film discuss fan “outrage,” which is a little surprising.  Mignola created, wrote, and drew almost everything in the original Hellboy cannon, and as a result, he owns it all.  That’s why he went to Dark Horse to publish it, and it’s the only reason we got such delightfully weird films the first time around.  
I liked the Guillermo Del Toro/Ron Perlman version of these stories, but they’re hardly carbon copies of the original source material, nor are they in any way the only possible “authentic” takes.  Thus, if Mignola wants to go with a younger actor and a different vision of his stuff, we’re not really in a position to complain.  It’shis deal.  Dude has enough of a track record with his audience to at least deserve the benefit of the doubt.
I’m a little surprised that he wants to make a specifically R-rated Hellboy, though.  My memory of the comics isn’t that they’re particularly horrific or hardcore.  The successes of Deadpool and Logan have certainly demonstrated the viability of R-rated comic stories, but that’s so long as the stories themselves are done in the spirit of the books they represent.  There’s definitely a possible reading of Hellboy as a horror comic.  It could work.  But that’s not the way Del Toro was headed with it, nor is it necessarily the only way to read those stories.
"ESPN is an extraordinarily powerful brand for all those people out there, and there are lots, who care about sports," Juenger said to CNBC.
"But the fact is not everybody cares about sports, and we think there's tens of millions of households who, for a variety of reasons, are still paying today for ESPN who don't really want the product. We don't think there's anything Disney can do to compel those types of people to keep paying for ESPN over time."

I would personally like to unsubscribe to everything that’s not sports.  How soon can I do that?
The New York Times added more than 300,000 digital subscriptions in the first three months of 2017, the newspaper said Wednesday, higher than in any other quarter in its history.
The company reported 308,000 net digital-only news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017, as well as a 19 percent spike in digital advertising revenue.
The Times has 2.2 million total digital-only subscriptions, which includes subscriptions to its crossword puzzle.
Worth noting: because of declines in print advertising revenue, ad revenue overall is still down despite the fact that the paper itself is growing its readership.  
Also worth noting: this entire article is probably considered Fake News by some folks out there.  If that’s you, I’d like to know why you think that.
What Army lacked in 2015 was any semblance of defensive effectiveness. The Knights weren’t awful against the run, but they were truly dreadful against the pass. And while slowing the tempo down cuts down on the number of overall possessions — therefore giving opponents fewer opportunities to pull away — you still have to make some stops eventually. Army couldn’t.
In 2016, Army could. Jeff Monken’s squad improved from 120th to 66th in Def. S&P+, and a couple of extra stops per game made all the difference. The Black Knights beat Rice by 17 this time around, beat Wake Forest by eight, and, of course, beat Navy by four. They upset Temple in the season opener and pummeled lesser FCS teams (Lafayette and Morgan State) and UTEP as well.
College lacrosse season is over, and graduations loom in the very near future.  Sure, baseball season is here, and if you like pro cycling, you’ve only two months until the Tour de France.  However, I still find this to be the longest season in sports, and though I enjoy almost everything else about late spring and early summer, it’s always a long stretch between then and now in terms of what I’m cheering for on my TV.
Is it too early to talk college football?
It might be, but let’s do it anyway.
The author of this particular piece notes right in the piece itself that S&P+ dislikes the triple-option because the triple-option is by its nature not explosive enough for modern football modeling.  This suggests to me that modern football modelling is chasing what fans want more than what actual mathematics ought to suggest is ground truth.  Or, to put it another way, these guys are over-weighting explosiveness because fans really like watching explosive offenses.  This isn’t a problem for fans, but it does mean that the model is broken.
The counter-argument, I’m sure, is that whoever developed S&P+ did so by analyzing thousands of games and tens of thousands of plays—along with the impact of each play to the overall game in question.  On aggregate, then, S&P+ is predictive in a general way.  
However, if you model for a living, you already know that one does not model specific cases based on aggregate mathematics.  Each case is unique, so to do it right you actually need to model S&P+ scores with team-specific weighting against league-wide tendencies overall--and against other team-specific weighting for individual game analysis.  I suspect that this would require much more time and data than is readily available, but even so, the sabermetrics guys should at least try to suss out and account for the differences in various offensive and defensive philosophies.  S&P+ makes no effort to do any of this, and it leaves the author of this particular piece with no choice but to acknowledge that Army is probably going to be better than its S&P+ score suggests because the model itself is flawed as it relates to the triple-option.
Ironically, ESPN does a better job modeling by virtue ignoring unnecessary detail.  Of course, we still have upsets, but at least the four-letter network isn’t so frequently trying to explain why a “worse” team beat a “better” one on any given Saturday or Sunday.  I’ve seen this so frequently in sports journalism of late that I’ve actually come up with my own sports law to deal with it.

Games should have consequences, folks.  Let’s all get out of the habit of paying attention to style points and acknowledge that winners win and losers lose, and that’s not that hard to understand.  Having to explain after the fact why Notre Dame was really a good team last year despite their 4-8 record makes a person sound ridiculous.
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That’s all I’ve got.  Enjoy the weekend.

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