NWLA 2017: This is Chess, Not Checkers! Tournament Favorites and Underdogs

Written by - Posted 2017-05-31 11:20 in News

Guest post from Jack Shannon

The loyal readers of the Potomac Wiffleball League website have come to expect the very best application of #SportsMath to wiffleball on the planet. Last summer, I wrote a series of articles (that I assume you have bookmarked) on rules structures, historic over and underachievers, and a sundry of other topics. The primary goal of those was to generate Facebook arguments, which I believe I succeeded in doing. THIS ARTICLE IS FOR DIE HARDS. The guys who spend all winter working on their screwball and watching WiffleBoy28 videos The guys who need to know exactly where their league stands in the national pecking order. For that, we’re going to have to use a little bit of #ChessMath. Strap in.

Those of you who play chess or watch soccer (my condolences if so) are probably well aware of Elo rankings. Essentially, an Elo system is a way to rank the relative performance of competitors. A team gains points by winning games and loses points by losing games (stunning, right?), but the gains and losses are weighted by the expected win percentage. That expected win % is based on the spread between the two teams’ point totals. If the spread is high –meaning a good team is playing a bad team – the good team will not gain a lot of points by winning since its expected win percentage is high. On the flip side, because of the high expected win percentage, the good team will lose a lot of points if it gets upset. The same is true for underdogs – they get rewarded with more points for beating favorites but are not harshly penalized for losing to the favorites. My readers don’t expect to get bogged down in the math, so those of you interested in finding out more about Elo rankings can CLICK HERE

In my model, everyone started off on an even level (1200 points). Once games are played, the rankings begin to shift. So the better teams begin to accumulate points and the bad teams lose points. A nice heuristic is to look to see if your league is above or below 1200. If you’re below 1200, you probably suck. If you’re above it, you’re not so bad. PWL is below it. Interpret that however you’d like.

“Hey Jack, where can I find those rankings?” Right here, buddy!

You should not be surprised by the top 5. Those five leagues have separated themselves from the pack as consistent winners year after year. The relative newcomers Leroy Wiffle and Hess Field also have impressive showings, as they have net gains in point totals, which generally means that they’re at least beating the teams they are supposed to. The same cannot be said for those below 1200.

Given that this is a PWL article, I guess I should write a sentence or two on our league. First, this ranking is not surprising. We’re just good enough to make even the best teams sweat if the good Shannon (me) is on the bump, but we’re also bad enough that Mequon wouldn’t bat an eye if they saw us on the schedule. Do you want to know what the probability of your league beating another league is? Of course you do. So here’s a nice matrix that shows you.

The way to read this chart is to start at the top or horizontal axis. The probabilities inside the table are the odds that the team on the top/horizontal axis would beat the teams on the side/vertical axis. So, for example, PWL has a 9.1% chance of beating OCWA, and a 57.1% chance of beating SRL.

What conclusions can be drawn from all this? Absolutely nothing. None of these probabilities exist in the real world. If you believe these, you’re probably an ESPNInsider subscriber. Or worse, a guy who calls into sports talk radio shows. Just because something has “math” in it doesn’t mean it contains any sort of real insight. Don’t fall for this.

The only possible use I find for this is as a reference point for anyone looking to get in on a little action on the games this year (Is gambling prohibited in the state of Michigan?)

So what are the odds for each league to win it all? See below. For those of you who do not gamble, the odds reflect how much money a $100 bet would pay out. For example, if you bet $100 on PWL to win it all, you would win $6800. That’s a hell of an investment. I’m more than happy to take that bet from you. For the gambling laity, I’ve also included in the table an MLB team with the equivalent odds of winning the World Series this year as a reference point. OCWA’s odds are much higher than any current MLB team, so I’ve made a slight adjustment for them.

We’re about a month and a half out from the 2017 tournament Lucky for you, the odds won’t change until another game is played. Place your bets.

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