Friday, November 25, 2022

There's All Kinds of Handicapping Biases

As seasoned bettors, arguably nothing befalls our selection process more than biases. They are truly a pox on our house. 

I woke up this morning to see headlines blaring, "Kirk Cousins Shuts Down Prime Time Stigma" as he went 30 for 37 for 299 yards in a win over the New England Patriots last night. 

There's a whole lot of bias going on with most headlines nowadays, and I guess this is just one of many. But, let's break it down. 

Selection Bias

This deadly bias is where we see what we want to see, or alternatively, repeat what others are seeing (because we don't do the work). 

We see a "prime time" 11-18 record or watched a few games and saw a bad performance or two from Cousin Kirk, and we heard it on talk radio. He sucks under the lights! It has to be true, right? 

Here are a couple of Cousin's Prime Time game stats. 

36 for 49 for 422 yards, 3TD's 0 INT 

41 for 53 for 449 yards, 3TD's 0 INT 

His teams lost both those games. 

Overall, Cousins in early games throws for 260 yards per game with a QBR of 100.3 with a record of 46-31. In Prime Time he throws for 272 yards per game with a QBR of 95.9; which makes sense because national games (or playoffs) the team is likely facing a tougher opponent/defense which results in a lower QBR (and does for every QB). 

Since 2014, he ranks 9th in QBR in Prime Time, just ahead of  another QB who captained 7-9 type teams for most of his career, Matt Stafford. 

Over in horse racing land, we can see this bias a lot with rider or driver changes. We select the time the rider change worked to remember, but forget the times it didn't. It can cause us to come to some really bad conclusions. 

This, as we notice in horse racing, is the "I see what I see with my own eyes, so don't tell me anything else" bias. The problem is, our eyes remember things selectively. We should not do that. 

Recency Bias

This is one I think we do much better with in horse racing than sports radio narratives do. We often discount the performance of a horse's last race, where they don't. 

Cousins played earlier this year in Prime Time and was ineffective, probably due to a 55% pressure rate, where few signal callers do well. But it was there. It was the last game in people's minds, so last night's performance becomes an outlier, probably due to our next bias. 

Results Bias

This is an ugly one. If New England didn't have a TD called back, Cousin's performance last night might be a loss, adding to the negative record. It's another game in the "he stinks" column. Mike Florio over at Pro Football Talk will have written a story about it already. 

Results bias is at play with everything we do in horse racing. I have a friend who has been doing woeful at Mohawk, however, he hit a couple tickets lately. Those results don't mean much, other than the random, and nothing can be concluded from them. He should, and will, tread lightly, despite the result. 

We've heard it before - it's the process, not the result. We can hit something without a good process, but we can't be fooled by it, because the process matters infinitely more. 

Last up - Confirmation Bias

This too is another dandy. And it causes many of us a lot of trouble. 

I don't know how many angles I thought were right, that over time were not, but I stuck with them far too long. 

"Look at that, see I told you!" We tend to believe what we want to believe. 

I see Kirk Cousins with happy feet (I might too, as he's seen over 20% pressures in his career playing behind some bad lines), behind in game trying to make something happen as lots of 8-8 team QB's do, and throwing some woeful passes. It confirms to me that he's no damn good. But by doing that I miss some very, very good passes and performances. 

I see a horse who is 0 for 15 who lost a few photos where I bet that is a no trying nag. When in effect we should be unbiased enough to know the horse was just being beat by faster horses. 

If we look for a confirmation of our bias we will find it. We will absolutely find something that confirms our belief. But it doesn't mean we're right. 

In sports land we can hear a lot of noise, because talk radio and talk twitter needs to fill time. I'm old enough to remember when Peyton Manning was a choker because of his early playoff record; LeBron, is he a "winner"; is Eli better than Peyton because he has more "rings" (how laughable was that one). Ovechkin can't win a Cup.

Like with most things, the extremes never tell a story. The horse we bet, is what the horse is; from his races and past performance lines. There's little mystery surrounding him or her. 

There's not much mystery in Cousin Kirk. He's no Dan Marino or Aaron Rodgers, but if it's dark outside, he's no Nathan Peterman either. 

Have a great weekend everyone. 

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