Uncommon Sense

February 16, 2023

Climate Modeling

One of the tools used by climate change deniers was to pooh-pooh computer modeling of climate change. In a recent post on Grist, entitled “Just how good were Exxon’s climate projections?” The author stated Exxon predicted climate change with 99% accuracy — in 1985, nineteen fucking eighty-five!

A study of the climate models used over the decades showed something quite interesting. When correct data was put into those models, the results were quite, quite good, that is the models from the time suffered from a “garbage in, garbage out” problem. The data entered into them was flawed, substantially so. When better data was entered, even the early crude models worked quite well.

But if you approach the man on the street as ask them how much confidence he/she has in computer climate modeling, they will probably respond with “Pfft.”

The reason for this is we allow our enemies to define/label our terms. Computers, pfft, what do they know?

I was watching a documentary on the life of basketball legend Bill Russell last night and I heard a similar one. When Bill Russell entered the NBA, he joined the Boston Celtics who had a stellar offence but lacked a forceful defense, which Bill Russell provided. They won the NBA Championship in Bill’s rookie season. A couple of years later, along came Wilt Chamberlain, who was drafted by the Philadelphia Warriors and Wilt took them to the NBA Playoffs and lost in the Eastern Division Finals, to the Celtics. Since Wilt’s stats were so dominant, way ahead of the stats Bill was putting up, the Celtic supports claimed that Wilt was only interested in stats while Bill was only interested in winning. This, of course was a lie, but I still hear people retelling it today.

So, why did Bill’s rookie team win the Championship and Wilt’s failed to? The season prior to Wilt’s arrival, the Warriors were 32-40, not woeful but not even a .500 team. With Wilt, they became a 49-26 team. The Celtics the year before Bill’s arrival, were 39-33 and finished second in the Eastern Division. That first team of Bill’s also had Hall of Fame players such as Bob Cousy, Tom Heinsohn, Frank Ramsey, and Bill Sharman on it. Wilt’s rookie team had one player of equal caliber to those Celtics, Paul Arizin.

This was the reason the Celtics won so many championships—the brilliant Coach and General Manger Red Auerbach put together teams of extremely good players each of whom fit the mode of play he desired. The Boston Celtics have the most players inducted into the Hall of Fame of all of the teams (40), Auerbach coached 12 of them: Macauley, Ramsey, Cousy, Sharman, Heinsohn, Clyde Lovellette, Arnie Risen, Andy Phillip, Russell, K. C. Jones, Havlicek, and Sam Jones.

Bill Russell was a keystone to those teams. As to the best centers of all time in the NBA, I have Bill and Wilt rated as 1A and 1B, tied. (You can assign which gets the A or B to your heart’s delight.) Wilt and Bill consider the other their favorite player and told stories to that effect. They were friends. Bill told the story of when Wilt grabbed 55 rebounds in a single game (November 24, 1960). Bill says he had a front row seat as they were playing the Celtics at the time. (Bill and Wilt own 24 of the top 25 rebounds in a game totals.) Wilt consider Bill the smartest basketball player alive, and Wilt didn’t like to give up a #1 position ever.

But ask a current fan and they will give you the “Wilt was chasing stats” trope almost every time.

Don’t let your enemies define terms or motivations or anything else. And remember who your real enemies are. (Hint: They aren’t fans of other sports teams.)

February 10, 2023

The Meaningless Season Statistics in Sports

With LeBron James racking up the greatest number of points scored in a career record, I turn my thoughts to the “meanings” of these records. (Cutting to the chase, these records have no meaning per se, but do provide us with talking points for meaningless discussions.

Take for example, the fact that Tom Brady, in his last year of competition in the NFL and in his mid-forties, set two new season records: most passing attempts and most passing completions in a season.

The reason this is not shocking is that the NFL changed to a 17 game season from a 16 game season two years ago, giving players one more game to add to their season totals.

Actually, the NFL season was 12 games in my memory, then changed to 14, 16, and now 17. What chance does a player have in keeping a record they made in only 12 games to a player who got 17 games to rack up stats?

As to the NBA consider these stats: these are the seasonal leaders in points score per game for the first ten years of thje NBA’s existence:

1955-56       Bob Pettit             St. Louis Hawks              25.7
1954-55       Neil Johnston       Philadelphia Warriors       22.7
1953-54       Neil Johnston       Philadelphia Warriors       24.5
1952-53       Neil Johnston       Philadelphia Warriors       22.3
1951-52       Paul Arizin           Philadelphia Warriors       25.4
1950-51       George Mikan       Minneapolis Lakers         28.4
1949-50       George Mikan       Minneapolis Lakers         27.4
1948-49       George Mikan       Minneapolis Lakers         28.3
1947-48       Max Zaslofsky       Chicago Stags                21.0
1946-47       Joe Fulks               Philadelphia Warriors     23.2

And here are the same stats for the last ten years.

2021-22       Joel Embiid           Philadelphia 76ers             30.6
2020-21       Stephen Curry       Golden State Warriors       32.0
2019-20       James Harden       Houston Rockets               34.3
2018-19       James Harden       Houston Rockets               36.1
2017-18       James Harden       Houston Rockets               30.4
2016-17       Russell Westbrook Oklahoma City Thunder   31.6
2015-16       Stephen Curry       Golden State Warriors       30.1
2014-15       Russell Westbrook Oklahoma City Thunder   28.1
2013-14       Kevin Durant       Oklahoma City Thunder     32.0
2012-13       Carmelo Anthony New York Knicks              28.7

Notice a difference? Many people suggest that today’s athletes have superior nutrition, superior training, superior medical care, all of which are true but are also true for the defenders of these players. I suggest that the bulk of the “increased performances” comes from rule changes. Back in the day, hand checking was allowed. That is if a guy started to blow by you, you could put out a hand and impede his progress. This is no longer allowed. Back in the day, if you were to cradle the ball in your hand, you were whistled for “carrying the ball” instead of dribbling it. When Allen Iverson came into the league, the referees notified his team and Mr. Iverson that his “cross over” dribble was carrying the ball and would be whistled. Iverson, a popular player, said “We’ll see.” Today that cross over dribble is in evidence all over the league. Many other rules have been modified or adjusted to a new norm and every single one seems to favor the offence, e.g. the defensive three-second rule, etc.

In NFL football, the same can be said for their rule changes. They almost all favor the offence over the defense. Quarterbacks, if breathed upon incorrectly can draw a flag. Receivers, since 1978, cannot be contacted five yards away from the line of scrimmage, etc.

These professional sports are entertainments and people like to see offence more so than defense, so that is the way the officials and their rule sets drift.

So, seasonal and career statistics, in raw form are almost completely meaningless. Comparing players between eras is almost impossible. The best we can do is compare how a player did against the league averages at the time, a crude indicator of the status of the rules and player’s abilities of the time.

For example, in Wilt Chamberlain’s mammoth 1962 season, he scored 50.4 points per game. (No one else has since even scored in the 40s.) The next most prolific score, Walt Bellamy, scored 31.6 points per game. Wilt’s record is 60% higher than the #2 scorer. Last year Joel Embid’s 30.6 points per game was tops and in second place was Giannis Antetokounmpo at 29.9 points per game. Embid’s stat was just 2% above second place. Not hard to tell who was more dominant.

January 5, 2023

Wow, a 71 Point Game!

Filed under: History,Sports — Steve Ruis @ 10:35 am
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In an overtime game day before yesterday, Devin Mitchell of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers became the seventh player admitted into the 70-point club, previously only accomplished by Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant, David Thompson, Elgin Baylor, and David Robinson and now Booker, with the last six having done the feat once. Chamberlain did it six times!

Booker’s 71 points included 7 three-point shots which didn’t exist in Wilt’s era, so his 71 point effort would have been 64 points under the rules that Wilt played under.

Now some argue that the “bonus” point for a three-pointer is because the shot is more difficult to make. The current NBA 3-pt make percentage is 35.7%, while the 2-pt make percentage is around 53%. The longer shot is about 50% “harder” to make, by those statistics, and is given a 50% bonus in score. That seems reasonable, but you need to think again. Because the 3-pt shot is actually overvalued, NBA rosters have been beefed up to include more “wing players,” lengthy guards and forwards who can shoot three-point shots which has devalued large, shot blocking centers.

For example, the current leader in rebounds per game in the NBA is at 12.4 total rebounds (offensive and defensive). (Hit 15 and you are a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.) Bill Russell, blessed be his name, retired with 22.5 rebounds per game for his entire career! Wilt retired having 22.9 rebounds per game. Blocks were not an official stat when Bill and Wilt played but apparently there are block stats for 112 games Wilt played in and he averaged 8.8 blocks per game. (Wilt was at the end of his career at that point.) The current NBA career record is 5.5 blocks per game. And, if that isn’t enough, Chamberlain, at one point a Philadelphia 76er, dropped 53 points, 32 rebounds, 14 assists, 24 blocks, and 11 steals in a game against the LA Lakers. In one game—24 blocks!

Players who decided to go for a layup, considered an almost unmissable shot, were often met by shot blockers like Wilt and Bill (Bill had 8.1 blocks per game, estimated). I have no way of determining the 2-pt shot make percentage back in those days, but it probably was not as high as it is now.

Sports commentators are all aglow about there having been 14 games so far in this NBA season in which a player scored 50 or more points! Fourteen! That’s a record! Uh, but one might also want to note that Wilt Chamberlain scored 50 or more points 44 times . . . in the 1962 season.

December 27, 2022

Why Do Lefties Have The Sweetest Swings?

Filed under: Reason,Sports — Steve Ruis @ 11:10 am
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The above question was asked on an Major League Baseball blog. The author then went about writing a very long article, missing the key point. He even went into things that had nothing to do with the quality of a swing, such as left-handed batters stand closer to first base, and therefore more likely to “beat out” weak grounders for hits. That might explain lefties having higher batting averages but not why their swings are so beautiful.

Do you want to know the real reason? (As if I know all, but . . .)

The answer is simple. The majority of MLB pitchers are right-handed. Since the majority of batters are also right-handed, the aspect faced by those hitters is a baseball coming at them over their left shoulders, as it were. It is just scarier facing a pitcher of the same handedness as you. (I think back to Don Drysdale, for instance, who deliberately threw “side-arm” to accentuate the fear.)

In baseball “lore” the pinch hitter you need is best of the opposite hand, if you have one. Your relief pitcher is best who is the same handedness as the upcoming batters. Managers set up their lineups with L–R–L–R– . . . batters so that other teams can’t take advantage of a heavy left- or right-handed lineup by throwing a same handed pitcher against them, even for short relief stints.

So, the advantage? The left-handed batter facing a right-handed pitcher doesn’t experience the same fear (of being hit by a pitch) and the ball’s placements draws their swings toward the plate, not falling away as the fear causes. They also can see the ball easier because they don’t have to turn their heads as far.

Since lefties face right-handed pitchers more often, they get used to swinging at their pitches. Righties don’t get all that much benefit from facing left-handed pitchers because there are many fewer left-handed pitchers and they experience more right-handers and thus their swings are constructed with “the fear” built in. The frequency of seeing those pitches, pitches that pull the batter in toward the plate determines the sweetness of the swing.

Facing  pitchers of the opposite handedness draws swings down and through the plate. Facing pitchers of the same handedness dissuades swings moving toward the plate through the fear of getting hit and encourage swinging away from the plate, even so far as “bailing out.”

It is merely a matter of angles and numbers.

October 24, 2022

How Embarrassing for the American League

Filed under: Entertainment,Sports — Steve Ruis @ 1:08 pm
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In 2013 the MLB Houston Astros franchise was moved from the NL Central to the AL West to create two North American major baseball leagues of the same number of teams each (15). Two years later a rebuilt Astros squad shocked the baseball world by adding 16 wins to its total from the previous campaign and advancing to the playoffs.

In the ten years since the move the Astros have made the playoffs seven times and won the “world” Championship once.

Last night the Astros qualified to contest this year’s World Series against the National League Champion Philadelphia Phillies.

So, this year there are two National League teams seeking the championship. How embarrassing for the American League.

October 7, 2022

I Am So Tired of the Confusion of Gender and Sex

The Latin roots of confusion are basically to “melt together.” And its meaning of “to mix things that should be kept separate” dates back 500 years or so. Sex and gender are quite different and should be kept separate.

I got interested in this topic when investigating competitive categories in my sport, archery. I would read things like “the competitive categories are separated by gender,” and I would think, surely that is not right. It isn’t, they are separated by sex, but our prudish society avoids the word sex, especially around youths, as it evokes thoughts of coitus.

The word sex refers to biological sex of which there are two. People arguing that there are more than two are blowing smoke. Where it gets confusing is in the messiness of nature. Human beings are usually born as female with XX sex chromosomes or males with XY sex chromosomes, but there is a tiny fraction (0.018%, maybe, not counting those created via diseases) of births where there is a mix-up. People are born with three sex chromosomes, XXY, for example. I remember one case in which a person had two distinctly different DNAs depending on where the sample was drawn from. Apparently, she had starting out to be twins, but the two zygotes fused together early on. Strange things can happen when the occurrence of something like births is very frequent and ongoing.

None of this information was available to use culturally when we made up the terms for our language to refer to men and women, boys and girls, etc. We only had simple observations. We are 95+% a species of two sexes, which we call male and female. People who want different pronouns to be used because they do not “identify” with either sex are confused. They are confused by what we call gender.

If you compare any physical, mental, or social parameter of men and women, you will get two Bell curves which overlap substantially. Let’s take height as an example. In the U.S. the average heights are 5 feet 4 inches (163 centimeters) for women and 5 feet 9 inches (175 centimeters) for men. But if you have ever seen a WNBA basketball game, you are aware that many of the players are women who are taller than the average man. The Bell curve distributions for height of the two sexes overlap substantially. There are men shorter than the average height of a women and women taller than the average height of the men. But, on average, men are taller than women. Too many people equate this to “men are taller than women” which isn’t true and can cause social problems.

Now, the two sexes, men and women, also display what we call genders. Gender refers to the characteristics of women, men, girls and boys that are socially constructed. For example, we train little boys to not cry and that pink is not pretty. We teach little girls that wearing dresses is important and the color of pink is pretty. (Pink was not always a “girlie” color. Gainsborough was famous for a painting called “Blue Boy,” showing a boy dressed in blue finery, but also painted a similar boy in pink finery (called, of course, “Pink Boy”).

So, in the two sex categories, we have always had effeminate men, that is men who displayed the social characteristics of women, e.g. comedian Eddie Izzard (a favorite of mine) and women who displayed the social characteristics of men, e.g. actress Katherine Hepburn (also a personal favorite).

At the other end of those two spectra we have “macho men,” men addicted to excessive displays of “manliness,” and “wilting flowers” women who display outsized gender characteristics. We tend not to notice these two categories much as they are conforming to society’s gender characteristics. The people who stand out are men who act like women and women who act like men.

There seems to be an effort ongoing now to characterize a number of gender categories, to which I say “Why?” I think this stems from people who have been ostracized for their lack of fidelity to how society says it wants men and women to act wanting to belong and not feel that they are alone. So, having such a gender category says two things: these folks are not unique and are recognized.

But having dozens of different genders makes a Holy Ned of a mess of our society. For example, back when I was a classroom teacher I typically had three or four lab sections of 20-25 students joined together for a single lecture section, which meant I could have 70-100 students sitting in each lecture class session. I struggled mightily in learning their names (the first sign of respect in a student-teacher relationship). If each of those students were to have their own set of pronouns that they preferred, I would have been overwhelmed. There was no way I could remember those. (Realize that every four and a half months, the group was replaced by another group of different students and the process would start over.)

I think a better solution would be to just accept people for who they are. If Butch wants to wear dresses to class, it shouldn’t be worth even a comment.

If Butch wants be referred to as “she,” however, well Butch is confusing me with someone who cares. Butch should maybe try his friends. They might agree to do that. I prefer to spend my efforts on things that really matter.

Postscript BTW, you cannot get an operation to change your gender. Sports categories are determined by sex, not gender, and the critical factor is whether you had your trans-sex operation before or after puberty. If the operation was after puberty, you would still have the frame and musculature of your original sex and should not be allowed to compete against athletes in your new sex, as it is largely cosmetic.

I suspect that the fireworks will begin now, but then not that many people read this blog, so maybe I am thinking to much of myself.

September 20, 2022

You Don’t Need a Ladder to Get Off Your High Horse

Filed under: Business,Culture,Morality,Sports — Steve Ruis @ 8:31 pm
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I was watching a televised MLB baseball game the other night and I realized that in large chalked letters running up the first base side of the field was the name of an online gambling site, an “official gaming partner” of the team.

Apparently now that all major sports in the U.S. have endorsed gambling we know what had kept them biased against gambling was that they were not getting a cut of the action (now they are). Of course, the purists will talk about how gamblers were at the fringes of their sport, trying to bribe players to affect the outcomes to favor their bets, but, that no longer seems to be a problem, now that the sports are getting a fair share of the loot involved and, well, the players are making more than the gamblers are.

So, can MLB and the Baseball Writers Association (and the Veteran’s Committee) stop blocking Pete Rose’s entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame? Yes, I know the HOF is a private organization, which has its own rules, but being flaming hypocrites shouldn’t be one of them. The man accumulated more hits than any other player in the history of MLB, for Pete’s sake.

August 12, 2022

Why Tom Brady is the Actual NFL Quarterback GOAT and Will Be for a Very Long Time

Filed under: Business,Economics,Sports — Steve Ruis @ 11:02 am
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For those not sports lingo fluent a GOAT is the “Greatest Of All Time.” Now many people point to his incredible number of Super Bowl appearances (10) and wins (7), but in a sport that requires a minimum of 22 people to play a game, I don’t think that he was the sole cause of all of those wins. And if you look at his passing stats, it would be hard to say that his ability as a passer was greater than Dan Marino, of the Miami Dolphins, who didn’t win even one championship. (Plus all passing stats have become inflated because of rule changes designed to promote the passing game.)

No, don’t look at statistics, look . . . elsewhere.

What makes Tom Brady the GOAT of all quarterbacks is the way he dealt with his salary. Quarterbacks get paid more than all of the other positions, sometimes as much as the rest of the starting offense combined.

One goat or two?

Where Tom Brady excelled is that he routinely gave back some of his salary so his team, the New England Patriots, could acquire better players. I do not think that at any time Tom Brady was the highest paid player in the NFL. (He currently ranks #1 in earnings which counts endorsements; every corporation wants a piece of excellence in their adverts.)

If you look at the top twenty highest salaried players in the NFL, the 13th, a T14, two T17, and the 20th players are the only non quarterbacks. (Tom Brady is not in the top 20, still.) In fact, many quarterbacks are being paid so much, it is hurting their teams. So much money going to the quarterback means there is less money to go around to other players.

Every time another quarterback becomes “the highest paid player” in the NFL, you will read about stories about how their team had to let go other stars because they didn’t have the money to pay them.

The quarterback, being the highest paid player on the team, effectively sets a salary cap. Every other player looks at that salary and gauges what they should be making off of that. Brady was humble in many, many ways (and really demanding in others). He always introduced himself to new players (as if they didn’t know who he was). His teammates knew he was, if not the greatest quarterback of all time, by one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time and saw him taking less money to help the team. Guess how that plays in the locker room and with the owners.

And really, how many millions does one need? (Note Anyone claiming “it is not about the money, it is about respect,” it is about the money. See “Tom Brady” above.) I spent close to forty years as a college professor and I made in all of those years about two million dollars. I am sure if those dollars were corrected for inflation, that would be over three and maybe as high as four million of today’s dollars. So, why is it important that these guys get 30-50 million dollars for one year of their services? How much money can a person spend?

And, then, when people remember great NFL quarterbacks, will they remember them because of how much they were paid or how they played and whether they won, because they didn’t take as much as they could so the rest of their teammates could benefit from the team’s success, too.

Can you imagine how things would have gone if Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs had chipped in some of his salary so his best receiver, Tyreek Hill, could get paid? He didn’t and now Mr. Hill, took his 111 receptions from last year and is now playing for the Miami Dolphins. We’ll see what the effect will be on both teams.

July 28, 2022

Steph Curry’s Secret

Filed under: Science,Sports,Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 12:42 pm
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Steph Curry and his Golden State Warriors teammate, Klay Thompson, are two of the best long distance shooters of all time in the NBA. Klay is a classic jump shooter. Steph, acknowledged as the better shooter of the two, is . . . not. Steph’s secret is that he is a set shooter.

Oh, I know I am going to get pushback on this, but I have just watched quite a view YouTube videos showing the two shooting and I think I am right. Some of the pushback, I suggest, is going to come from people who remember or have seen what a set shot looked like in the 1950’s. A “classic” set shot looks a lot like a free throw, with the feet hardly leaving the floor. But no one has shot a classic set shot for decades in the NBA. A modern set shot is modeled on what a young child’s set shot was. If you think back to what kids did to be able to reach the hoop from distance, they launched themselves as well as the ball toward the basket (see the photo just below). That is not a jump shot. It is a set shot aided with additional propulsion from the shooter’s legs.

If you watch Klay Thompson shoot, he displays a classic jump shot. He jumps and then at his peak he shoots. Klay is not the most athletic guy, but since he is 6´6˝, his jump shot allows him to get above smaller players. Steph Curry, on the other hand, isn’t small but he is only 6´2˝ and shoots jump shots usually only closer in to the basket (where the bigger defenders are). Steph’s advantage from distance is what is called a “quick release,” which means he takes very little time to get his shot off, giving the defender very little time to get a contesting hand in his face or even blocking the shot. To do this Steph shoots a modern set shot, which means he is jumping as the ball is being shot. There is no delay at the top of his shot as there would be if he were to be using a jump shot.

The advantages to shooting a modern set shot are that it is quicker and that much of the force needed to propel the ball comes from the legs instead of the arms and shoulders. Those muscles can be used for mostly guidance and just partly for propulsion.

So here is Klay Thompson’s classic jump shot form, in which the ball is yet to be launched and he is near his jump peak.

And here is an excellent montage made by ESPN dissecting Step Curry’s “jump shot.”

You will notice that Steph is nowhere near his jump peak when the shot begins (frame #2 from the left) and that he is at his jump peak in the next to the last frame, when the shot is basically off, not just beginning. He is shooting on the way up, as in a modern set shot.

In other words, Steph shoots like girl and he is transforming the NBA doing so.

April 27, 2022

Surprise . . . Maybe Not!

Filed under: Culture,Entertainment,Sports — Steve Ruis @ 10:07 am

(Note: It is Spring, so a baseball post is appropriate, one of the two I tend to allow myself. S)

Last year, everyone picked the Dodgers to win the NL West, with the Giants coming in a distant third or fourth. At the end of the season, the Dodgers had 106 wins . . . and the Giants 107.

This year, everyone picked the Dodgers to win the NL West, with the Giants coming in a distant third or fourth. Currently, the Dodgers are 12 and 5 (Ws and Ls) and the Giants are 13 and 5, the best W-L record of all of the teams in MLB.

Are the Giants the Rodney Dangerfield of MLB, in that they “don’t get no respect?” Just askin’.

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