Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Seat Race

Many years ago, eighteen and one half to be exact, I was a rower. I haven't sat in a shell for a long time. It was one of the most mentally challenging things I have ever done. It is an incessant battle of mind over body. It is a quintessential team effort. Everyone must give it their all, or you don't stand a chance in a regatta. Now, I bowl. Not many people have undergone this transition, and it may explain in part why I don't feel "at home" at the lanes.

In crew, the boats are set early in the season. On my team, we had eights and fours of various categories, such as varsity, junior, and lightweight. The number refers to how many oarsmen sat in the boat. There was also a coxswain, who by the way, does not yell, "stroke... stroke... stroke!" They steer the boat, tell you how you're doing (so you don't have to look sideways), and offer words of encouragement, sort of like a personal trainer. A good coxswain gets you through the pain and steers the boat in a straight line.

Even if you had a seat in a boat, it was not necessarily secure, like any position on any team. The coach would occasionally give another guy a shot, or you could challenge a seat. When this happened, it came down to a "seat race", literally you are rowing to keep your seat or to take someone else's. Here's how it works. Two boats race, and the result is recorded. Then, the two competitors switch positions, and the boats race again. The difference between the two races determines who wins.

It is about the relative performance of your team when it includes you vs. when it does not. The NBA tracks something it calls the +/- stat, which is intended to do the same thing. According to their website, it is "the point differential when players are both in and out of the game, to see how the team performs with various combinations." Ron Artest of the Lakers currently leads the NBA a +/- of 278. This means that the Lakers have been 278 points better than their opponents when he is on the floor compared to when he is not. I haven't checked the numbers, but this could result, for example, from the Lakers scoring 144 more points than their opponents when Artest plays, and 134 fewer points than their opponents when he does not. He really helps that team. [He's also very talented at assaulting fans.]

The seat race and the +/- stat are similar measures in that they are intended to see how an individual member of a team (or sometimes combinations of members) affect the performance of the team. Now, I have taken a long time to get to the real reason for writing about this stuff. You see, I am increasingly feeling like I am detrimental to my team. I missed this week's bowling because I was in San Francisco. How did the team do without me? 4-0. They were perfect and perfect against a team that in the past has consistently put us in our place. I'm proud of the Movements; I really am. But this pattern is not new. When I leave, we always do well.

Coincidence? I'm not so sure. I decided I'd check our team's +/- stat by bowler. Specifically, I calculated this as the difference in win percentage when a bowler was present or absent. I am unable to do this for Daniele because he has not missed a single night of bowling since the start of the BIA. Likewise, the Rookie has not missed a night this season, but he did sub for us last year. So, I considered all of those weeks when the Canadian rolled last year as the Rook's absent days. When, I did this, here's what I found:

In short, what this says is that when I am absent, we win approximately 44% more games than when I am present. Specifically, we are 11-1 without me and 60-65 with me. Thankfully, I'm not the only one in the red. K-terk is, too, but only barely. Both the Canadian and the Rookie also have positive effects. On the other extreme is Johnebob. We can't win without him. We are 70-64 when JPL is there, and 1-7 without him.

Now, it is tempting to chalk up my failure and John's success to small sample size, and that may be cause. But at least in my case, this difference is not easily explained by chance. The probability that this is a chance occurrence is around 3%. But here's the conundrum. I have led the team in average this year. Yet, in my absence, we do better. To be honest, it makes me feel a bit toxic.

So, there you have it. If I was in a seat race this season against K-terk, I would be the sub, and he would bowl in the two spot. I love tracking stats, but sometimes you can dig yourself into a deep hole. I might end up "statisticing" myself out of a job. The real question is whether my teammates bowl better in my absence or does the other team bowl worse? I can answer the first question if I crunch some numbers, but to be honest, I don't really want to know.


  1. No such stat is applicable for the IRONMAN.

  2. It sounds like the IRONMAN needs to get out of the county from time to time.

  3. Agreed. Pay the IRONMANS way and he'd be gone tomorrow.*

    *=also includes watching kids.

  4. Once again, I am going to read something entirely different out of your post:

    I get in the opponents heads far better than you, and they bowl worse in my presence. They air off their hands, grab their ball, and look over the ball return to meet the steely gaze of none other than a Rambo/lumberjack/Mr. Tee/Sarah Palin incarnate.

    I'll be there again next week, and will be happy to give some pointers. I'm not sure if we can do anything about my smell; I have an enchanting natural musk that steals the heart out both my opponents and potential mates.

  5. Oh that's what it is. I thought I had a little bit of Mr. T in me, but apparently I have to work on the lumberjack, Palin, and Rambo parts. You betcha I pity the fool who chops down a Vietnamese tree with only an axe.

  6. Well I'm glad to hear that I have a positive effect on the outcome - However this week I will miss my first game and these calculations may have to reevaluated.

    Whatever happens rest assure that we will not try to cover you in lane grease, burn you, and throw you off a bridge like a bad cursed towel.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.