The Nobel Prize, Steroids and You

In what will come as no surprise to anyone who reads my writing regularly, I don't like math. I much prefer words (hence the whole teaching English and writing-a-tonnage-of-words-for-my-own-amusement-thing), but I know that math has a valuable place in the world.

That's why I read London based magazine The Economist (well, that and the snarky captions & covers). In the most recent issue, one of the magazine's Science and Technology writers explained how mathematics can solve the primary dilemma that athletes, governing bodies and fans face when they face steroid use.

Using the game theory branch of mathematics, the writer explains how and why using steroids to cheat can seem to be the only rational behavior for athletes, especially those involved in direct competition with other individuals (like the recently implicated sprinters Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell). While baseball, as a team game, is a slightly different scenario, many of the same principles hold, so consider how game theory explains the use of steroids in baseball through the following goofy teacher analogy (again, I teach English not Math, so bear with me...and if you are a math/economics person please tell me to pull down this post so I can make it actually accurate).

Say you have two players getting together for a little driveway home run derby. Let's call them "Bryan Raun" and "Moe Jauer". They'll be competing against each other and have the option to either cheat or play fairly. That means that there are four possible outcomes depending on what each player decides to do. (Symbolized in the box below by "C"s for Cheat and "F"s for Fair).
The Game Board
If the player's only goal is to win, and if cheating helps them to do so (say, by making their muscles big and avoiding injuries through some magical injection or something) , it quickly becomes clear what they should do to maximize their chance to win: Cheat. If Moe cheats, he can win or have an even shot at winning. If he plays fairly he can lose or have an even shot at winning. Only 1 of the 4 outcomes (25%) can have playing fairly end with a chance to win, but 2 of the 4 outcomes (50%) can have cheating end with a chance to win. It's simple probability: Cheat.
Option 1: The Merits of Cheating

But let's say the game isn't played just between "Bryan" and "Moe". Let's say that Bryan's crazy Uncle Bud watches them to make sure that the game is played fairly (like most used car salesmen, Uncle Bud's ethical like that). Now Uncle Bud decides that he'll watch them play and if he catches either Moe or Bryan cheating they'll automatically lose. Suddenly the strategy of the game changes, and playing fair gives you a 50% probability of getting a chance to win, while cheating only gets you a 25% chance (i.e. if Moe and Ryan both cheat, but only Ryan gets caught, then Moe wins)
Option 2: Fair Play

That might be the best way to play the game, if like Uncle Bud, all you care about is ethics. But let's pretend that Uncle Bud likes money (I know, I know...odd for a Used Car Salesman), so Uncle Bud decides to let other people watch Bryan and Moe play for a nominal fee. We can also pretend that Uncle Bud invites Mike to sell lemonade at the game and promises both the fans and Mike that the game will be really entertaining, exciting and EXTREMELY competitive. (As an added bonus, whoever wins the most might earn a little more money from fans and could be hired by Mike to tell everyone how great that Lemonade is.)

Now "Moe" and "Bryan" have even more incentive to win first and foremost, and Uncle Bud has an incentive slightly greater than fairness: he wants excitement, competition and success. So Moe and Bryan have to do some quick thinking. Does the desire to win and make money trump the desire for fairness?

Many people immersed in Game Theory have argued that the most logical decision would be to think: "I can gain so much by cheating [winning, money, more money], and Uncle Bud can gain so much by not catching me [money, more money, lots of more money] that it makes sense to cheat if I can". But there's still a few people, like, say, Moe, who would illogically decide: "you know, um...I think the risks of getting caught [losing, losing money] outweigh the benefits, so I'll play it fairly." This way only one person (Bryan) wins...right up until the moment they get caught.
Option 3: Split decision
Now the first two scenarios (everybody cheats/everybody plays fair) hit the famous Nash Equilibrium (famous in part because it helped its namesake, John Nash Jr., win the nobel prize and famous in part because it was explained using pretty girls in a Russell Crowe movie). This the point at which both people playing the game have maximized the benefit to themselves. The third and final scenario (one person cheats, the other doesn't) doesn't help either player as one will likely lose the game and money for a while, until the other player gets caught and loses everything.

Now baseball is not a two person game between "Moe" and "Bryan", and there's no amount of data that cheating automatically leads to winning or success. But, hopefully that rudimentary use of Game Theory not only explains why cheaters cheat, and why testing matters, but helps us to look at the issue that really matters.

If winning is everything
The bigger issue to me is not in understanding how or why "Moe" and "Bryan" do what they do, but in how Uncle Bud, Mike's Lemonade, and all those fans react to both cheating and playing fairly. The Nash Equilibrium could be reached if we each agree that the only thing that matters is winning. Moe and Bryan want to win so they cheat. Uncle Bud wants to make more money than the game of HORSE and the flag football game down the street, so he wants winners too. Mike's Lemonade wants champions to talk about the drink, thereby selling more lemonade, so it too wants winners. And if fans care first and foremost about beating the other guy, well...then it's all about winning...and it's all about cheating.

If fairness is everything
But, and this is a huge BUT, if we decide that it's not only in our individual interest, but it's also in our collective interest to support a fair system, then we can still reach that Nash Equilibrium. Player's might individually want to keep their jobs and avoid long term suspensions. Owners might...okay...definitely will want more money from customers and partners who trust them and longer commitments from players who won't get suspended. Companies want to support the kinds of players and sports that people love. And customers want to feel respected by owners and companies as well as having players to admire on the road to success. Most importantly EVERYONE (players, owners, companies and customers) has a collective interest in keeping the game interesting and free of embarrassing scandal. That's where we can agree that fairness trumps winning, and that's the other option for equilibrium.

Again, I know that the world of baseball is likely too big to get everyone in agreement about anything (hell, the DH debate is still a thing), but there's room for things to change, and most importantly there's room for fans to take action. Companies have already turned their back on Ryan Braun, and there's almost a unanimous boycott in place around Alex Rodriguez. Owners are leery of touching admitted users with a ten-foot pole and, increasingly, baseball players themselves are turning on those who use (As suggested by the Buster Olney story that "a pitcher drilled a hitter in a game this season, and when...he returned to the dugout, [he] explained...that he had plunked the guy because he’s a juicer -- a cheater, a PED user. The teammates who heard him understood.")

Maybe we need a town hall meeting, maybe we need a vote from the fans, maybe we need a cathartic set of admissions and tears and pleas and angry denouncements and effigies and Oprah-orchestrated-hugs, but we need an agreement about what our goals are if we want to reach anything close to equilibrium. We don't all have to agree, we can't possibly all agree...but the closer we get to agreement the better for the game, the better for the fans and the better for everyone except the cheaters.

Thank for enduring this installment of an English teacher tries his hand at Math, we now return you to your summer vacation.


Adopt a Prospect II.4: "Enjoy the Little Things, Like Pizza Stop Pizza!"

(Disclaimer: since this seminar is designed for Luis Perdomo, Peanuts From Heaven shall not be held responsible for any injury--either physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual--incurred by any person who adopts seminar lessons as their own. We do however take complete credit for any improvement--either physical, mental, emotional or spiritual...and especially financial--of the life of any person who adopts seminar lessons as their own)

It's time to once again boost the spirits of everyone's favorite middle-ish reliever LUIS PERDOMO!! To be sure it has been an up-and-down season for Perdomo, fortunately, lately the ERA and WHIP have been going down, while the K/9 and K::BB Ratio have been going up. 

Still, you can't take anything for granted, whether it's a baseball career or the financial funding for a faux-movitational-seminar. This is why it's increasingly important that you take the time to enjoy the little things in life Luis, like Pizza Stop Pizza! Conveniently located at 123 State Street, less than 2 blocks away from Frontier Field in Rochester! 

Nothing is promised to us in this world, and while we often focus on the importance of capitalizing on each opportunity we have in our professional lives these must be balanced with our personal lives. And we will have no life at all if we don't make time to consume delicious, nutritious food like the Jurassic Chicken Pizza at Pizza Stop Pizza!

Our world is chaotic and always changing. It's important to savor things like the songs of birds, the shine of morning dew on a bed of flowers, the startling punch of Jurassic Barbecue Sauce and the amazing mixture of freshly picked spinach on many of Pizza Stop's excellent vegetarian pizzas.

The more we appreciate the world around us, from the humble farmer harvesting fresh mushrooms, tomatoes and broccoli to the humble cheesemonger seeking an audience for delicious ricotta and parmesan cheeses, the more we integrate ourselves in the world and tap into the natural power of the world. And the more power we draw from the world the easier it is to excel in all that we do, whether that be writing blogs, making pizzas or pitching in Middle Relief for the Rochester Red Wings.

So Luis, we hope that you take this lesson to heart. Enjoy the little things. Oil your glove with care. Chase after batting practice fly balls. Try a garlic, broccoli and mushroom pizza. And let the natural pleasure of these experiences--not to mention the much needed vitamins and minerals available in a fresh-made pizza pie--help you to de-restrain a force inside you.

Promotional consideration for this post was not actually provided by Pizza Stop Pizza. But it totally could be if they wanted it to. Please mail checks and/or slices of pizza to "Peanuts From Heaven Inspirational Seminars LLC; 1234 5/6 Fake Street; St. Apolis, MN 90210"


Wha Happened #10 (@ Marlins, V.s. Royals, Yankees + Vacation)

We Peanuts will be on vacation in Merry-Old England and Crabby-Old Scotland for the next two weeks.

Game 75
Marlins 4 - Twins 2
After being welcomed to Miami by Will Smith the Twins spend the next day in a haze of scantily clad women and mildly mischievous lyrics, leaving them unable to concentrate at Marlins Park.

Will Smith - Miami from moezechief on Vimeo.

Game 76
Marlins 5 - Twins 3
The Twins have a good deal of early success against Miami's starter in the first inning, they run into trouble against Kevin "Killthrow" Slowey, who savored the opportunity to best the team that let him go. Elsewhere "Dr. Cakeburn" Nick Blackburn, and Boof Bonser plotted their revenges as part of the Legion of Pitching Doom.

Game 77
Twins 3 - Royals 1
The Twins had a lead, but it all looked like it would be for not as the Royals started to find their swing...and that's when Samuel Deduno turned his whole persona up a notch.

"Yo Moustakas, what's greek for better than you: DEDUNO!! HAHAHAHAHA!"
"You know David...your name makes me think...but your swing makes me Lough! HAHAHAHA!! Am I right Bros, am I right?...I'm right."
"Oh, and Eliot Johnson, is it? Say hello to my little friend...his name's Pedro Florimon: KA BOOM!!"

Such was the bro-i-tude of Samuel De-Dude-Bro. It may be obnoxious, but it's in our interest.

Game 78
Royals 9 - Twins 3
Following the previous nights victory, Chairman Joe Mauer (he whose sideburns prompt the moss to grow on trees and whose knees bend into a crouch as the corn stalks droop with their bounty) announced that he would forgo getting hits throughout the series as a sign of his generosity to Kansas City.

"You know, umm...they've had a hard time lately, but ahhh...you know I think they'd really appreciate a little support in their time of need and you know....ummm...hopefully this reminds them that their bourgeois monarchy is a paltry shadow of its former greatness and that they would be better served in a Twins-Territory style dictatorsh--I mean democracy........ya know"

It did not work.

Game 79
Twins 6 - Royals 2
It was a big night as Twins' blogosphere's favorite pitching prospect--Kyle Gibson--made his debut as Kyle Gibson in Kyle Gibson's Twins Debut: Starring Kyle Gibson!! Fortunately Kyle Gibson perfectly embodied the Kyle Gibson-ness of Kyle Gibson by Kyle Gibsoning the Kyle Gibson all over the Kyle Gibson.

Also the Twins won.

Plus! Kyle Gibson

Game 80
Royals 9 - Twins 8
Once upon a time (back in a dark and gloomy age I like to call: 2011) The Twins were prone to face difficult situations and crawl into a little cave of sadness and despair. If they were going to lose it seemed, they might as well lose with their eyes clenched shut and walked real slow and dreamt about an offseason trip to St. Barths.

Sunday, the writing was on the wall. The Twins had a lead and lost it. Every time the Twins got close the Royals came back...but instead of going to their cave of sadness and despair, the Twins kept trying. Showing that even in the face of defeat, they insist on putting forward their best effort.

But they lost. And across the plain those who refuse to enjoy anything shouted: STUPID TWINS! Trying's for chumps!!

Game 81
Yankees 10 - Twins 4
Stupid Yankees.

With the Twins clinging to a one run lead in the 8th Jared Burton entered and then this happened to every Twins fan, Gardy and Burton himself

Also: Stupid Yankees.

Game 82
Yankees 7 - Twins 3
Damn Yankees.

For many years now we have subscribed to the belief that the Yankees are secretly Vampires who leech off of easily duped New York Fans, depriving them of money, human decency and blood to fund the expansion of their empire by turning good baseball players into vampires (and as a result, great baseball players).

You may scoff, but which is more likely: one team making all the right moves for 100 years, or the existence of vampires? (Admit it, it's vampires)

With the injuries and debilitations that have knocked many of the most prestigious Yankpires (your Jeters/A-Rods/Texerias/Grandersons) the Yankees owner-who-shall-not-be-named opted to sign a slew of players, and turn them all into vampires. So it's less like fighting off a single diabolical count (as in Dracula), and more like fighting off a horde of them (as in Underworld or Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

So it was that the Twins succumbed to the death by a thousand-piddly-Yankpire-nibbles

Also: Damn Yankees.

Game 83
Yankees 3 - Twins 2
Seriously, Yankees? Seriously?

You know it's not a good sign when the entire row of people your sitting with gets a little anxious in the fifth (when PJ Walters starts to get hit hard by the bottom of the order).

It's worse when the row of people goes "what's he still doing out there" at the beginning of the sixth.

And it's the worst when there are quickly two men on, first base open and Robinson "I Eat Twins Pitching for Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and my Tea Time Snack" Cano at the plate...and your faltering pitcher throws to him. (Because that's the moment the entire section of people you're sitting with puts their heads down and just waits for the inevitable boom)

Ballpark Food Haiku
Kramarczek's bratwurst
Plopping mustard, sauerkraut
Out of syllables


Game 84
Yankees 9 - Twins 5
Oh...god...[sighs, shakes head]...Yankees.

After the first three games, the Twins set slightly lower expectations for their July 4th matinee against the Bronx bombers.
*Objective 1: Kyle Gibson retires future hall of gamer Ichiro Suzuki 1 time! (DONE!!--after two hits and a run...but still...HE DID IT!!)
*Objective 2: Avoid squandering bases loaded opportunities (DONE!!--We only squandered opportunities with two runners on! YAY!)
*Objective 3: Deliver elbow pounds to Justin Morneau (HUZZAH...there was even a reason for doing it!)

Meanwhile, in an alternate reality, our founding fathers set similarly low expectations for their July 4th matinee 237 years ago.
*Objective 1: Declare a couple of ideas to sort of be kind of interesting.
*Objective 2: Address the tyrannical reign of King George the III by passive aggressively not signing or including any kind of personal message inside Ye Olde Hallmarke Carde.
*Objective 3: Only let Ben Franklin drink 13 pints of ale, instead of his customary 15.
...of course in that alternate reality the Minnesota Twins lost their Major League Cricket game to the New York Georges 720 to 15 (but Justin Morneau did hit two sixes...so that was nice...)

Ballpark Food Haiku
Sweet and tangy Pork
Deep Fried Pie and a Ginger
Tastes like freedom, natch.

Finally: SERIOUSLY?!? I mean....SERIOUSLY!?

Mr Peanut: TIE! Justin Morneau and Caleb Theilbar! (One's back in form, the other's never lost it!)
Nutty Buddy: Jared Burton (Come on beardy...let's get it going)



In a spirited bout of laziness time-management, I'm pairing a blog for The Montanan Hooligans' World Cup Center with my blog here about the Minnesota Twins. If what I write makes you even slightly curious about more soccer writing, feel free to check that out...and know that while baseball might be hard to come by on my upcoming vacation to England/Scotland...soccer might be easier to come by.

I'll Buy This
XI Reasons Being a Baseball Fan Makes it Easy to Be a Soccer Fan (and vice-versa)

I. Under the surface strategy: Don't get me wrong, a well placed 3 run homer or penalty kick is all well and good, but more often than not it's not what you see happening on the ball, it's what's happening away from it that matters. Did the outfielders really leave the left field line open for Joe Mauer? Did you see how Asamoah Gyan made that run to the back post? Totally drew the defenses attention away from Dede Ayew. There's always something more to see than what you see.

II. Minimal interruptions: The best games of baseball simply roll through, pitchers working quickly, catches made or missed, hits and walks building into rallies and sides swapping chances one after another. The same is true in soccer: passes and movements flowing seamlessly up and down the pitch for forty-five minutes at a time without a single commercial break. Sometimes there have to be bullpen bucket brigades, sometimes there's an obnoxious array of feigned injuries that eat up valuable time...but at their best the only thing that matters is playing the game.

III. Players pay their dues: Both baseball and soccer have baby-faced phenoms who soar into view out of nowhere and take the world by storm (your Mike Trouts and Neymars, for example). But even the young bucks have to work their way up to the top: through Clearwater and Round Rock  and Scranton until you get to Yankee Stadium or battling through Eindhoven and Valencia en route to London. But at the top levels of the game there are both phenoms and well seasoned vets who arrived at this stage through dedication and perseverance.

Cobb and Maradona would be best friends...after they killed each other

IV. Body types are no bar: Speaking of dedication and perseverance, you don't watch soccer or baseball with the sense that they are totally different than you. Take the top 5 baseball players of all time (by WAR [excluding Barry *Human Asterix* Bonds]: Ruth, Young, W. Johnson, Mays and Cobb). Their slightly taller than average (5'10" [Mays] to 6'2 [Johnson], and range from 170 pounds (Cobb) to 220 (Ruth), unlike the sky scraping NBA's top 5 (by PER: Jordan, James, O'Neal, Chamberlain and Robinson--all over 6'6") or the NFLs (by AVV: Favre, Rice, Manning, White and Lewis--all over 200 lbs, [minus Rice its 220]). Soccer players have a similar everyman quality about them--with the one exception that none of them had Ruth's hot dogs and beer diet--but world renowned names like Pele, Maradona, Johann Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer are all under 6 feet. Helping you dream that just maybe you could do it too.

V. Whole new world of statistical analysis: While I've often been accused of being a numbers-averse, story heavy fan/writer, I absolutely appreciate well employed statistical analysis. And increasingly Soccer has started using advanced stats with serious foresight. Added into a vocabulary full of BABIP and VORP comes PS% (Pass Success %) and ADW (Aerial Duels Won). Heck, FIFA even sold naming rights to a statistic to Castrol! So as someone who appreciates their affectionate nerdery with a dash of numbers, it's an ideal situation.
VI. Long Season as an Asset: Part of the reason statistical analysis works so well in baseball and increasingly in soccer is the sheer size of the season, you can be confident that you're getting a good sample size with six months worth of games. Better still, you get to know players and story lines as they develop, and you also get a sense that every game counts because pennants are a badge of honor in baseball (and one of the only ways into the playoffs) and they are the whole kit and caboodle in futbol. While soccer does have a variety of in-season tournaments (an idea I floated on my own baseball blog), there's a great deal to savor in every game, no matter where you stand.

Admire the honesty
VII. Loyalty rewarded: Being a fan requires loyalty, sincerity and pride of purpose. It seems a little silly to non-fans that you care so much about a group of men you'll never meet, and yet you really come to feel like you live with and for the players you watch every day, cheering on their successes and screaming over their failures. And in the end there are players who want to be every bit as loyal to their fans and their adopted home as the fans are to them, which is why Jim Thome tears up in Minnesota, and why Mario Balotelli still wants to play for Italy, no matter what obscenities some people throw his way.

VIII. Front office strategy galore: Loyalty is great, but for many fans, winning is better. So I have to appreciate the cajoling, conniving and various intricacies of altering a roster to make your team better. It's not just Terry Ryan's trade talks, it's the waiver wire watching and the AAA call-ups. That's not an option in a lot of other sports, but it is in soccer. Twice a year ownership groups go on spending sprees that would make the worst shopaholics blanche. They scour the globe for the best talents and drop a dime or two to bring them aboard (50 M seems to be the going rate for the best scorers these days). But that's not all...there's a raft of players in youth development programs itching for a call-up and rigorous competition among players already on the team striving to unseat one another. What will happen and where and with whom? Half the fun is that the hot-stove season never really ends.

Pretty awesome
(Hurriyet Daily News)
IX. Female fans, not objects: With three boys and a boy-at-heart, my mother might seem to care about sports out of self defense, but she really worried about the hole in Delmon Young's swing, the Viking's doomed defensive schemes, Wolves' missed passes and, of course, offsides traps. But she rolls her eyes every time football and basketball cameras zoom in on bouncing/bouyant cheerleaders, and she brought me up to do the same. Look around a baseball stadium and you find no cheerleaders or spirit squads, just women in the stands bemoaning bad middle relief or celebrating good plate discipline. The same thing holds true on soccer terraces (possibly because women in the US play the game at an elite international level), where every well paced pass and deflected shot are cause for joy or alarm. I don't think cheerleaders are evil...but I know I'd rather be around women who know and love the game they're watching.

X. Low scoring: This might be even less American than saying, I feel weirded out having eye candy cheerleaders shoved in my face. I like low scoring contests. I like it when runs or goals come at a premium rather than in a bundle, because it encourages you to relish every opportunity you get. It also highlights that, though you may fail, persistence is it's own reward. 

XI. Sweet satisfaction in toppling the almighty: One of the things that goes hand-in-hand with low scoring affairs, is that anyone can be beaten at any time. The Yankees may spend more than the gross national product of Belize, but scrape together a few runs and they can be beaten. Manchester City may drop more hundred dollar bills than Montgomery Burns taking out the trash, but sneak a late goal and they too can be beaten. It feels great to be a Twins fan when the pin-stripers are scratching their heads in dismay, and equally great when Watford unseats City (or, on a global scale--when the plucky old stars and stripes shocks England/Spain or any one of a host of European Goliaths).

And a retro jersey? BRAVO SIR
It's easy to love sports. And when you love these things, it's easy to share the love between two great games. I'm looking forward to visiting the birthplace of one great game, and to a great year of both games.