Pub Trivia Performance—the Long View

Last week my pub trivia team was debating whether our high score, although only good for second place—we lost by one point—was the highest. So this past weekend I scoured my sketchbooks for the last year and a half and reviewed our scores.

Alas, the earliest appearances were tally-free. And I did not record them consistently until this past autumn, but I had developed a decent system by last summer for the sake of comparing weeks.

Over the summer (not entirely captured) and autumn, we had a string of first-place finishes. Then we cratered towards the new year. And while we have strung together a couple of second-place finishes, we haven’t finished in first since last autumn.

We've been on a steady climb up since the new year…
We’ve been on a steady climb up since the new year…

London Beats New York

In murders. Not the best of news, no. But this past March London saw more murders than New York. But as I was reading the BBC article this weekend, I wondered why the graphic they chose to use received as much prominence in the article as it did.

London moves ahead of New York
London moves ahead of New York

The chart as you can see occupied a full column width. But keep in mind, we are looking at a total of six datapoints: the murders for two cities in three months. While the story and data is significant, does the display of the data need to be?

My version
My version

The important point in the story is that in the past three months, London has surpassed New York in the number of murders. But the graphic supporting those six data points should not be overwhelming the significance of the text explaining the trend. After all, the data consists of only three points for two cities. If the data is displayed on an extended horizontal axis, it flattens the change and minimises the increase. To counteract that, the y axis should be increased, but then the amount of screen real estate being devoted to six data points is enormous. The better approach is to use a smaller graphic that displays the data in a better proportion, but also in a proportion that does not blow out the text of the story. The graphic to the right (and maybe above this blurb of text) shows how that can be done in a smaller space.

Credit for the original goes to the BBC graphics department.

Bitcoin Land

Sorry, I ran into some technical problems this morning so this is going up this afternoon with an added bit at the end.

I’m not really sure this piece should go onto the blog. But I like it. And this is still my blog. So what the hell.

I grew up a big fan of games like Sim City, where you could create your own universes. And in the world of infographics, you do occasionally see the isometric drawings of cities, but I find they often lack representative value. Here, in this piece from Politico Magazine, we have the Bitcoin landscape.

The different buildings represent different elements of the cryptocurrency’s ecosystem, from supporting markets, regulators, utility companies, &c. Later on in the article, the different sections are broken out and labelled and annotated. Additional elements are also brought in to explain ancillary parts of the Bitcoin landscape. All the while keeping the same style. Very well done.

Reticulating splines
Reticulating splines

This detail looks at some of the things existing outside the specific Bitcoin environment, e.g. other cryptocurrencies. And the aforementioned utility companies that provide the necessary power for the computations.

It even has a tram system…
It even has a tram system…

I kind of wish the universe was larger, though. If only for the purely selfish purpose of getting lost in the illustrations.

Since I’ve had today to think more about this, it reminded me of one of my favourite projects I got to work on from a couple of years ago.

Unfortunately for me, my illustration skills are not quite top-notch. But I did get to direct a similar project, working with a talented designer—now expert craftsman—who can in fact draw. And since it’s not often I get to show this work, why not. We used consumer survey data describing the average middle class household to, well, visualise said middle class household. It took a lot longer than I think anyone thought, so we never attempted the style again. But the designer did some great work on this.

One of my favourite projects that I oversaw as Captain Art Director (not my real title).
One of my favourite projects that I oversaw as Captain Art Director (not my real title).

Credit for the Politico piece goes to Patterson Clark and Todd Lindeman.

Credit for the Euromonitor piece goes to Benjamin Byron and myself.

Brexit Is Bad News for British Regional Growth

A few days ago, a confidential report by the British Treasury was leaked to the press. It confirmed what many had feared, that the economic forecasts for the regions of the UK were not that rosy under different models for different Brexit scenarios.

The scenarios looked at the change in growth for regions over the next fifteen years under three conditions: leaving the European Union, but remaining in the single market; leaving the single market but crafting a free trade agreement with the EU; and no deal, the so-called Hard Brexit.

I charted the data and it speaks for itself. Brexit is bad. The least worst option would be to remain in the single market. The North East, for my non-British readers that’s the area south of Scotland and home to Newcastle, is particularly not forecast to do so well in a hard Brexit.

Brexit is bad across all regions of the UK, least so in London and the South West.
Brexit is bad across all regions of the UK, least so in London and the South West.

As the debate rages on in the UK about how to proceed, the data should contribute to the conversation. While forecasts and projections can be wrong—what is the certainty of these forecasts, for example—it does make one wonder that if a better economy was a selling point of Brexit, do these forecasts make the idea of Brexit still worth it?

Data comes from the BBC. Credit for the design is mine.

Baseball’s Free Agency Problem

Baseball season begins next week. For different teams it starts different days, but for the Red Sox at least, pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training on Tuesday. But the Red Sox, along with many other teams throughout baseball, have holes in their roster. Why? Arguably because nearly 100 free agents remain unsigned.

I do not intend to go into the different theories as to why, but this has been a remarkably slow offseason. How do we know? Well using MLB Trade Rumours listing of the top-50 free agents this year, and the signings reported on Baseball Reference, we can look at the upper and middle, or maybe upper-middle, tiers of free agency.

The upper tiers of baseball's free agent market, as of 9 February
The upper tiers of baseball’s free agent market, as of 9 February

Kind of messy to look at with all the player labels, but we can see here the projected contracts, in both length and total value, along with the contracts players signed, if they have. And for context we can see how those contracts compares to the Qualifying Offer (QO). What’s that? Complicated baseball stuff that is meant to ensure teams that lose stars or highly valuable players are compensated, especially since they might come from smaller market teams that cannot afford superstar prices. The QO is meant to help competitiveness in the sport. How does it do that? Let’s just say complicated baseball stuff. We should also point out that some players, most notably the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka, were expected to opt out of their contracts and try the free market. Tanaka did not, which is why his projection was so far off.

Comparing the signed to the unsigned free agents
Comparing the signed to the unsigned free agents

So is it true that free agency is or has moved slowly? Consider that approximately 100 free agents remain unsigned as of late Thursday night—please no big signings tomorrow morning—and that of the top 50, 22 of them remain unsigned. And if we take the QO as a proxy for the best players in the game, add in two players who were exempt because baseball stuff, we can say that 8 of the 11 best players remain unsigned. Though, in fairness to ownership, three of those players are reportedly sitting on multi-year offers in the nine-figure range.

But if players are unsigned, does that mean they are competing for lower value contracts? Possibly. If we use MLB Trade Rumours’ projected contracts, because in years past they have proven smart at these things, we can see that for the 28 who have signed, it’s a roughly even split in terms of the number of players who have signed for more or less than their projection. Sometimes however, non-monetary factors come into play. Two notable free agents, Todd Frazier and Addison Reed, both reportedly signed lesser value contracts to play closer to a specified geography, in Frazier’s case the Northeast and in Reed’s the Midwest.

How are the signed players doing versus their contract projections
How are the signed players doing versus their contract projections

But the telling part in that graphic is not necessarily the vertical movement, i.e. dollars, but the horizontal movement. (Though we should call out the cases of Carlos Santana and Tyler Chatwood, signed by the Phillies and Cubs respectively, who did far better than projected.) Consider that a team might not have a lot of money to spend and so might extend a contract over additional years, offering job security to a player. Or in a bidding war, the length of the contract might be what leads a player to pick one team over another. In those cases we would expect to see more left-to-right movement. So far we have only had one player, Lorenzo Cain, who signed for more years than expected. Most players who have signed for less have also signed for fewer years. Note the cluster of right-to-left, or shorter-than-expected, contracts in the lower tiers versus the small, vertical-only cluster in the same section for those signing greater than projected contracts.

Lastly, are these trends hitting any specific positional type of player? Well maybe. Ignoring the market for catchers because of how small the pool was—though the case of Jonathan Lucroy as the unsigned catcher is fascinating—we can see that the market has really been there for relief pitchers as there are few of the top-50 remaining on the market. Starting pitchers and outfields, while with quite a few still on the market, have generally done better than projected. But infielders lag behind with numerous players unsigned and those that have signed, most have signed for less than projected.

Are there any trends at the position level
Are there any trends at the position level

But at the same time, I would fully expect that once these higher level free agents come off the board—while one would think they would certainly be signed, who knows in such a weird offseason as this—the unsigned middle and lower tiers will quickly follow suit.

Of course none of this touches upon age. (Largely because lack of time on my part.) Though, in most cases, getting to free agency in and of itself makes a player older by definition the way baseball’s pre-arbitration and arbitration salary periods work. (Again, more baseball stuff but suffice it to say your first several years you play for peanuts and crackerjacks.)

Hopefully by this afternoon—Friday that is—some of these players will have signed. After all, baseball starts next week. If we are lucky this post will be outdated, at least in terms of the dataset, come Monday. Regardless, it has been a fascinating albeit boring baseball offseason.

Credit for the data goes to MLB Trade Rumours and Baseball Reference.

The World Grows On

January is the month of forecasts and projections for the year to come. And the Economist is no different. Late last week it published a datagraphic showcasing the GDP growth forecasts of the Economist Intelligence Unit. I used to make this exact type of datagraphic a lot. And I mean a lot. But what I really enjoy is how successfully this piece integrates the map, the bar chart, and the tables to round out the story.

Take a note at how the chart distributes the bins as well
Take a note at how the chart distributes the bins as well

The easy thing to do is always the map, because people like maps. They can be big, and if the data set is robust, full of data and colour. But maps hide and obscure geographically small countries. And then you have to assume that people know all the countries in the world. Problem is, most people do not.

So the bar chart does a good job of showing each country as equals, a slim vertical bar. In such a small space, labelling every country is impossible, but the designers chose a select number of countries that might be of interest and called them out across the entire series.

Lastly, people always like to know who is #winning and who is a #loser. So the tables at the extreme ends of the chart showcast the top and last five.

I may have rearranged some of the elements, and dropped the heavy black rules between the bins on the legend, but overall I consider this piece a success.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

Power Sapped

Following on yesterday’s post about the Red Sox offence, I wanted to follow up and look into their power numbers. So here we have a smaller scale graphic. Nothing too fancy, but the data backs what my eyes saw all year. A definite power drain up and down the Red Sox lineup in 2017.

Where did all the power go?
Where did all the power go?

The Red Sox Offence in 2017

Like I said yesterday, the Red Sox season is over. And the coverage on offseason needs began in the morning papers. But I wanted to follow up on the data from yesterday and delve a bit more deeply into the offence.

Yes, we know it was roughly league average across the team. And we know it took a hit with David Ortiz’s retirement at the end of last year. But what happened? Well, I took those same OPS+ numbers for the starting nine and compared 2017 to 2016. I then looked further back to see how those same players performed throughout their careers (admittedly I skipped Hanley Ramirez’s 2 plate appearances in 2005.)

You should take a look at the full graphic, but the short version, pretty much everyone had an off year. And when everyone has an off year, it is a pretty safe bet the team will have an off year.

You can't all take a break…
You can’t all take a break…

A Brief Review of the Boston Red Sox Season

Well the 2017 season ended yesterday afternoon for my Boston Red Sox as we lost 5–4 to the Houston Astros and they took Game 4 of the ALDS. So this morning we will surely see the critiques and hot takes on what to do to improve the team begin to make the internet rounds.

But before we get into all of that, I wanted to take a look at the 2017 season from a data perspective. At least, the regular season. After all, we can see how Sale in Game 1 and Kimbrel in Game 4 just had poorly timed bad days. But what about the other 162 games? After all, we will need to win a lot of them if we want to make it back to the playoffs in 2018.

I just pulled a couple quick stats from Baseball Reference. Now we can quibble about which stats are best another time, but from my experience the more sabremetric datapoints are lost on a general audience. So here we are using OPS, basically a hitter’s average combined with his power/slugging ability, and ERA, the amount of runs a pitcher can be expected to allow every nine innings. I also threw in defensive runs saved above average, i.e. is the player saving more runs than an average player.

You can read the graphic for the details, but the takeaway is that Boston, we need not panic. The 2017 Red Sox were a good team. Far from perfect—here is looking at you lack of middle-of-the-order power—but a solid lineup, good rotation, good defence, and a fantastic bullpen. How can we add without subtracting too much?

Overall, not a bad team
Overall, not a bad team

Not Alone for Trivia

Well after the last two weeks of recording solo trivia performances, I decided that this week I would showcase a team effort.

A non-solo performance
A non-solo performance

And we finally placed, ending the performance tied for first place. But if you look closely you will see the final score has us at second. Why when we were tied with the same number of points? Because tiebreaker. And after I was selected to represent the team, I needed to respond, within three seconds, with the names of Tom Hanks films in a back-and-forth response.

I could name only Saving Private Ryan and Castaway. My competitor, she named three. They won.