DMB News October 2005

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Diamond Mind Email Newsletter

October 27 , 2005
Written by Tom Tippett

Welcome to the fourth edition of the Diamond Mind email newsletter for the year 2005. Through these newsletters, we will try to keep you up to date on the latest product and technical information about the Diamond Mind Baseball game, related player disks, and our ongoing baseball research efforts. Back issues are available on our web site, www.diamond-mind.com.

If you don't wish to receive these messages in the future, please send an email response with the subject line "unsubscribe". We'll immediately remove your email address from the list. And if you know someone who would like to subscribe to this newsletter, we'll be happy to add them to the mailing list if they send us an email message with the subject line "subscribe" and their name and street address in the body of the message.

Topics for this issue:

October mailing
2005 Season Disk
2006 Bill James Handbook
Updated 1975 Classic Past Season now shipping
DMB in the Philadelphia Daily News
DMB on ESPN.com
New web site articles
That's poker…and baseball

October Mailing

Although a majority of our customers now order their Diamond Mind products through our web store, a good number prefer to order by mail.

So we've begun sending our annual October mailing to registered owners of Diamond Mind Baseball. That mailing includes an updated order form that includes the 2005 Season Disk and the 2006 Bill James Handbook.

To order by mail without waiting for your letter, you can print an order form via the "How to Order" page of our web site.

2005 Season Disk

Work is underway on the 2005 Season Disk, which will begin shipping on December 14th, and we are now taking advance orders.

As usual, you'll receive a ton of information with this season disk, including everything you need to start playing games immediately upon installation:

- full rosters with every player who appeared in the big leagues

- official batting, pitching and fielding statistics, including left/right splits for all batters and pitchers and modern statistics such as inherited runners, holds, blown saves, pickoffs, stolen bases versus pitchers and catchers, and in-play batting averages

- games started by position versus left- and right-handed pitchers

- updated park factors

- a full set of real-life transactions and game-by-game lineups for season replays

- two schedules, the original (as-scheduled) schedule and another (as-played) reflecting rainouts and other rescheduled games.

- real-life salaries for all players

- complete manager profiles for all teams

You can place a credit card order now through our web store (follow the link from www.diamond-mind.com) or by calling us at 800-400-4803 during business hours (9-5 Pacific time, Mon-Fri).

2006 Bill James Handbook

Since 1990, the annual Bill James Handbooks have formed the backbone of our baseball library. For a complete, well-organized reference that includes every active player, you won't find a better book.

You can order the paperback edition from Diamond Mind for only $17.95, a 10% discount off the cover price. The spiral-bound edition, which lies flat on your desk, is $21.95, a 12% discount off the cover price. Both editions will begin shipping the week of November 7th.

Among the many great features of the Bill James Handbook are:

- career registers for every active player, including minor-league stats for players with little big-league experience

- complete fielding statistics for every player

- expanded pitcher stats include hitting, fielding, and holding runners

- park factors and rankings

- left/right splits for all batters and pitchers

- conventional and sabermetric leader boards

- team standings, augmented by many team performance splits

- team rankings for batting, pitching and fielding

NOTE: Because of the added weight, first-class and air mail shipping rates are not available for orders including this book. Priority Mail and Overnight shipping rates are available.

Updated 1975 Classic Past Season Now Shipping

The 1975 Classic Past Season now includes real-life transactions and game-by-game starting lineups. This season can be purchased for $19.95 each. Registered owners of the previous editions can upgrade for $5, and free upgrades are available on request to anyone who bought this season in the past six months. This brings to nine the number of Classic seasons that now have transactions and lineups.

DMB in the Philadelphia Daily News

The Tuesday, October 4, edition of the Philadelphia Daily News included a brief story about the outcome of a hypothetical playoff game between the Astros and Phillies.

As you know, the NL wild card race came down to the final day, with Philadelphia trailing Houston by one game. Both teams won on Sunday, putting the Astros into the postseason tournament, but Philly fans wondered what might have happened if Sunday had gone their way.

We were happy to help, so we rated the players based on their 2005 stats and played the game one time. Philadelphia won 5-2, and while we all know that playing a game once doesn't prove which team is better, it's often more interesting to play the game once and report the boxscore and game log than it is to play the game a thousand times and report that team A won 551 of those games. Besides, the real-life playoff, had it been needed, would have been played only once.

Here's the link to the Daily News story ...

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/10/sports/baseball/10score.html

... and the link to the version on our web site ...

http://www.diamond-mind.com/simulations/houphi2005.html

To view the story on the Daily News site, you may be asked to register with them. It's free, but it will take a couple of minutes to enter your name and address.

DMB on ESPN.com

ESPN.com's World Series coverage included simulation results from Diamond Mind. We simulated the series 100 times, tallied the number of wins for each team, and providing ESPN with stats, boxscores, and play-by-play accounts of the most representative of those simulation runs.

New Web Site Articles

We recently posted our annual ranking of the pre-season predictions and the stats of players who made their debuts in 2005.

That's Poker . . .and Baseball

For the past two years, the airwaves have been flooded with poker events and ads for online poker sites.

If you've watched any of those shows, you've undoubtedly heard that "all you can do is get your money in the pot with the best hand".

These words are usually spoken when a player makes a big bet when he has the advantage but loses the hand when his opponent catches a killer card at the end. They serve as a reminder that luck plays a major role in most poker hands.

The big bet wasn't a mistake at the time it was made, even if the hand is ultimately lost. If you can get the odds in your favor, and do so over and over again, you'll make a lot of money in the long run. As a result, in the long run -- when you've played thousands and thousands of hands, more than enough to even out all of the luck -- poker becomes a game of skill.

The most popular form of poker these days is no-limit Texas Hold'em. In Hold'em, the first round of betting is based on two hole cards that are dealt face down to each player. Then five community cards, which are shared by all of the players, are placed face up in the middle of the table. Not all at once, though. Three of them come first (the "flop"), then a fourth (the "turn") and finally the fifth (the "river"), with a round of betting after each of these three phases.

Because any player can bet any amount at any time, no-limit Hold'em is an aggressive game. Even if you don't have the best cards, a huge bet can win the pot by scaring all of the other players into folding their hands. Sometimes you'll see a player bet all of his chips. That's called "going all in".

If more than one player stays in the pot until all the cards are dealt, the winner is the player who makes the best poker hand using any five cards from his hole cards and the community cards. But there's no guarantee that the player with the best hole cards will win the pot.

Let's suppose someone raises the pot in front of me, indicating that they have a strong hand. And let's suppose I have a pair of aces, the best possible starting hand, and I decide to go all in, hoping the other player will call and give me a chance to win even more chips.

And let's assume that my opponent has the ace-king of spades. I got all my chips into the pot with the best hand, so I'm happy. But I can still lose the hand. If the community cards include three spades, his flush beats me. If a ten-jack-queen appears, his ace-high straight beats me. If two kings appear, his three-of-a-kind beats my two pair.

The odds are in my favor, of course. According to the poker odds calculator on cardplayer.com, my aces should win 88% of the time. But one out of every nine times I'm in this situation, I'm going to lose.

Even if I lose, however, it was not a mistake to bet all of my chips. The only way to win is to find situations where you're better off and push them really hard. If the poker gods aren't smiling on me today, so be it. Eight out of every nine times, I'm coming out ahead.

Many other all-in situations are less clear. Suppose I had a pair of eights instead of a pair of aces. I'm still ahead in the hand, since I have a pair and he doesn't. But there are many more ways he can beat me. In addition to hitting a straight or a flush, any ace or king gives him a higher pair. Now I'm only a favorite to win the hand 52% of the time.

In the long run, I still want to be all in with my eights against his ace-king. If we play this hand ten thousand times, I'm going to win 400 more times than I lose, and that's a very good way to make money.

In a single hand, however, it's almost a coin flip. There's a 48% chance I'm going to lose the hand.

If I do go all in, and I do lose all of my chips, does that mean I made a mistake? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on the situation.

If I'm a professional poker player in a cash game, and I have a large enough bankroll to guarantee that I'll be able to keep playing for a long time, I did not make a mistake. I got my money in with the best hand, and I can afford to keep playing hands like this, so I'll come out ahead in the long run.

If I'm in the late stages of a tournament, with only a handful of players left, and I'm sitting behind one of the smaller chip stacks at the table, I did not make a mistake. I need to make something happen before the antes eat up my remaining chips, and going all in with an edge can be the best way to get back in the game.

In the early stages of a tournament, when the antes are low and I have enough chips to stay at the table for a few hundred more hands, I probably did make a mistake. Why put my whole tournament at risk on a coin flip? Why not fold my hand and wait for a better opportunity?

In several ways, the decisions faced by baseball managers are similar to those faced by poker players:

1. Poker games and tournaments present you with a series of opportunities to make decisions. So do baseball games and baseball seasons.

2. Poker players must make decisions in the face of uncertainty. Unless the game is rigged, nobody can predict the next card.

Baseball managers face a different kind of uncertainty. They can pinch hit to create a favorable matchup, but there's still a significant chance the batter will make an out. They can call for a sacrifice bunt, but there's no guarantee the batter will get the bunt down.

(In this sense, baseball announcers mislead us when they talk about a chess match between opposing managers. Like a baseball manager, a chess player has to make a series of decisions, think ahead, and consider the moves his opponent might make. But there's no uncertainty in chess. If you elect to play your knight to a certain square, it's done. There's no chance that the knight will try to reach that square and wind up somewhere else. That's a big difference.)

3. Poker players and baseball managers are in it for the long haul. They expect to make many decisions in the course of each game. They expect to play a large number of games. Long-term success is based on their ability to create and exploit situations where the odds are in their favor. Most of the time, their edge is very small, but those small advantages add up over time.

Of course, very few baseball decisions are analogous to having pocket aces, where you're an 88% favorite to win. The vast majority of baseball situations are similar to my pair-of-eights example, where I was only a 52% favorite.

If I'm down by one in the bottom of the ninth and the inning starts with a leadoff single and a walk, should I bunt the runners to second and third? A successful bunt would raise the probability of scoring at least one run from about 65% to about 69%. All other things being equal, if I make this play 100 times, I'll tie the game four more times than I would have otherwise.

If I pinch hit for a weak-hitting catcher, I might increase my expected on-base percentage from .300 to .340. Put another way, I've decreased my chances of losing this battle from 70% to 66%.

If I decide to give a star player a day off every three weeks, I'm doing so in the belief that my chances to win the other 154 games are slightly improved by keeping him rested. This is a tough call to make and to evaluate, because there is very little difference in the probability of winning a game among (a) sitting out a star player, (b) playing him with extra rest, and (c) playing him without any rest.

Because these decisions involve very small changes in the likelihood of success, it's easy for managers to look bad. If you make a move that increases your chances of success from 52% to 56%, there are three possible outcomes. 52% of the time, you would have succeeded either way. 4% of the time, your move turned failure into success. And 44% of the time, you still won't get the result you were seeking.

In other words, you're subject to second-guessing 44% of the time, whether or not your move was the right one.

In this respect, poker players have a much easier time of it. When someone goes all in with the best hand and it doesn't work out, it's not his fault. After all, it's understood to be a game where chance plays a major role, and nobody can control what cards come next.

Poker players have a term for this. It's called a "bad beat". You made a good play and you lost anyway. Too bad. It happens to everyone. Don't even think about asking for sympathy.

Baseball managers rarely get credit for a bad beat. Sometimes you'll hear an astute commentator say that the manager did exactly the right thing and it just didn't work out.

But some people don't seem to understand that most managerial decisions are very close calls made in the face of a lot of uncertainty. In fact, they appear to think the exact opposite is true. They assume that the path not taken would have led to certain success.

If only they had held the runner at third. The next hitter was sure to drive him in.

If only they had used a different reliever. He would have gotten out of the jam.

If only they had made a defensive substitution. He definitely would have made that play cleanly.

Apply that kind of thinking to poker and you're guaranteed to develop bad habits and keep losing until you run out of money to lose.

If only I had called that raise. The next card surely would have been the eight I needed.

If only I had folded that hand. I just knew my opponent was going to catch the card he needed to make his flush. I could feel it.

You get the idea.

Second-guessing managers is a great sport. I do it all the time. But let's be fair. If a manager doesn't seem to grasp the probabilities, or if he makes a move that creates a small edge now but ties his hands for a more crucial situation later, he's fair game. But if a reasonable decision turns out badly, what can you say?

When faced with uncertain outcomes, sometimes you do the right thing and lose anyway. Sometimes you do the wrong thing and get away with it. That's poker. That's baseball. That's life.

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