Posts tagged ‘World Series’

Remembering Mariano Rivera's Only Post-Season Blown Save

Rivera has 88 appearances in the post-season with only one blown save.  When he walks to the mound in the World Series, it is usually (in the immortal words of Bill Paxton) "game over man, game over."  But his one blown save is remembered in Phoenix, since it coincided with what is easily the greatest moment in Arizona pro sports history.

Income Inequality and Game Theory

Consider this situation:  You are a member of a four-person rock band.  Each member of the band has contributed somewhat equally over time, and band revenues have always been split evenly, 25% to each member, though its total earnings on an absolute basis have been small  However, the band has suddenly become the next U2.  It is likely the band will make tens of millions of dollars over the coming years.  Just as this is happening, the other three band members come to you and threaten to make you Pete Best.  They will allow you to stay with the band, but only if you accept a reduction in your share of the earnings to 10%.  You perceive this move as unfair given your equal contribution to the band to date.  However, even 10% of the band's new fortunes would be a LOT of money (and fame) and you honestly believe that even a 10% share is better than you could do with any other band or occupation.  What do you do -- take 10% or quit?  (assume you want to be famous and you have no legal recourse against the other members)

In an analytical vacuum, one might predict that any rational person would take the deal -- while it is less than might be hoped, it is certainly a better deal than one could get any place else.  A pure profit maximizing decision would be to stay with the band (and watch you back at night for more knives).

However, numerous studies and surveys have shown that in fact, a  large number of people would choose to give up the money rather than feel cheated.  Just look at the number of professional football players who have held out for a whole season to try to get a better contract.  In every case, the present value of the salary lost for that season is far greater than any increase in salary in the future from taking the tough stand.  But these players would rather be paid nothing than feel underpaid.

TJIC had a pointer to an interesting article on game theory.  In it, the author talks about this behavior in the context of a game that divides up pies, and summarizes:

Apparently, making money is not the players' only concern; participants have a sense of pride and care about how they are treated by others, economists have concluded. Thus, offers perceived to be "unfair" are rejected out of a desire for revenge.

In fact, revenge and/or envy has been tested in a number of games, where scientists gave players trailing in the game the ability to spend money solely to take away money from the leading players  (e.g. you can spend your last $10 to make $10 of your opponents money disappear).  There is something in human behavior that wants to bring down the winners, even when doing so makes one worse off himself.  (Question to Red Sox fans:  would you accept a lifetime bad of the Sox from the World Series if you were guaranteed the Yankees would never make the World Series either?)

I guess I don't really have a problem with such behavior in consensual transactions (though I personally work pretty hard to purge my ego from business decisions).  My problem comes when people motivated in this way vote in our society that has proven to have inadequate protections of the minority, at least when we refer to the minority of rich and successful

In Closing of the American Mind,  Allan Bloom tells the story of a question he used to ask his classes vis a vis income inequality.  He would ask something like "Would you vote for a law that reduced income inequality but at the same time reduced total wealth, such that the poor might get a larger slice of a smaller pie, and might even be worse off on an absolute basis afterwards."  Apparently, he would get solid majorities for "yes" and in fact I have been in classes where this same question was asked and at least 40% said "yes."  This is a situation a bit similar to the one above, but without it being personal.  In other words, no one has explicitly hosed you, they have just done better.

I hope you can see the parallel.  Large numbers of people are willing to pay (or equivalently make less money) to reduce the earnings of people who are wealthy and/or successful. They are even  more willing to do so if they think that they have been treated unfairly.  Which is why you see so many politicians and media outlets working so hard right now to convince the middle class that current income distribution patterns are somehow "unfair."  Politicians are pandering to this base human emotion, the desire to spitefully bring someone else down (in the case of income equality laws, someone the person has likely never even met or transacted with) even if it makes oneself worse off.   

I can understand why Pete Best might harbor a grudge against the Beatles.  But why do so many Americans harbor a grudge against people they have never met, just because they make more money?

The Baseball Closer Role is Nuts

I am not really a huge baseball fan, but we generally watch the World Series, and the Astros pitching decisions in the seventh inning had me yelling at my TV again.

In a previous post, I talked about my pet peeve of the closer position.  For non-baseball fans, here is the background:  Typically, starting pitchers make it about 6 innings on average, leaving a need for other pitchers to cover the last three innings.  Most relief pitchers who cover these later innings are not as good as the starting pitchers, or else they would be starting pitchers.  The exception is that most teams have a "closer", typically their best relief pitcher who is reserved for pitching the last inning (thus the name "closer").  I asked before why the closer always pitched the 9th, rather than whichever inning of the last three that the toughest batters were expected.  The answer I came up with was this:

the explanation must lie in metrics.  If a manager loses a game in the
7th, it is just a loss.  If a manager loses a game in the 9th, the game
was "blown".  Newspapers and talk shows keep and publish stats on games
blown in the 9th, but not games lost in the 7th and 8th.  Games lost in
the 9th are in a sense portrayed as more of a management failure than
games lost in the 7th, and this is made worse by the fact that a game
lost in the 9th is somehow more psychologically devastating for fans
and media.  Managers are not dumb - recognizing that they get dinged on
their performance rating more for a game lost in the 9th than the 8th,
they have invented the closer role.  General managers take a
disproportionately large part of their salary budget for relief
pitching and dedicate it to this closer role.

You can even see this effect today, as everyone talks about Brad Lidge giving up a 1-run homer in the 9th, rather than talking about the grand slam the bull pen gave up in the 7th.

So here is what specifically drove me nuts last night:  Bottom of the 7th, the White Sox trailing 4-2, the Sox had managed to load the bases with two outs and had Paul Konerko, one of their best sluggers, up to bat.  The Astros were clearly going to switch pitchers, since the current guy had just walked two batters in a row.  The question was, who to bring in?  One announcer suggested they bring in Brad Lidge, their closer and the best guy available (short of bringing in a starting pitcher). The other announcer said, no, you can't do that, he will never make it all the way to the 9th.  You can't, he said, bring your closer in this early.

Well why the hell not?  Are you really going to face a more dangerous situation than bases loaded with Paul Konerko up to bat later in the game?  Lidge, if he is their best guy, should have been in then, and pitched the 8th, and then they could have patched guys together for the 9th.  Instead, they sent in some other guy and boom, grand slam.

Now, I will admit that Lidge's giving up the game-winning home run in the 9th taints my argument a tad, if only to make the point that Lidge may have not been as hands down superior to the rest of the bullpen as we may have thought a few innings earlier.  But that does not change the facts of the 7th inning:  The Astros were facing the most dangerous possible situation, in the heart of the Sox order, one worse than anything they were likely to face in later innings, but they chose not to put the person they thought of as their best available pitcher out of homage to this weird baseball conventional wisdom called the closer.