Hello everyone, Six Zero here with the latest installment of:
SIX QUESTIONS WITH MATHLETE
Inspired by the official site’s “Two Minute Drill” series and TomVH’s famous Q&A segments with potential recruits, this weekly feature highlights some of the more famous personalities here at MGoBlog. Without pulling back the infamous veil of blog anonymity, we’ll get to know some of your favorite posters better and possibly shed some light on their definition of why it’s so darn Great, To Be, A Michigan Wolverine.
Math. Nemesis to many, and friend to so very few. Some of us get it, and the rest of us use it only when we absolutely have to, like a plunger or Mucinex (ed: nasty stuff). When it comes to MGoBlog, we all know that the resident expert is Mathlete, who seemingly can use statistical information to prove everything from what players are more valuable than others to which Sparty player is most likely to next act with felonious intent. His posts are well-written, tirelessly researched, and busting
at the seams with factual analysis and conclusions. And yet, despite all that
number-crunching, he was still gracious enough to sit down with us
for this exclusive MGoProfile interview:
1. Mathlete, known far and wide as the only man capable of making numbers sing “Hail to the Victors.” Few login names fit their owners as well as yours. Were you, or are you, a competitive mathlete? Is there a story behind the selection of your name?
Growing up, my dad was a math teacher and a coach so I always had a strong mix of math and sports in my life. Sports were always the thing I wanted to be good at and wasn't, where academic competitions were the thing I was good at but mostly embarrassed of. When I first registered at mgoblog, I originally was going to pick an obscure reference from The Wire (Always, Boris) but at the last minute decided to embrace a more accurate name and attempt to embrace the title that had
created so much teenage angst.
Ahh, yes—surely the most famous type of angst has to be the teenage variety. And if it makes any difference, I think if you had any other login name it’d simply be wrong.
2. Your posts are legendary for their vast raw data, their accuracy, and their ability to recognize facts where others simply see coincidence. Do you live in a black-and-white world? How do you see life differently from others?
My interest in numbers actually has the opposite effect on me. We ultimately measure the results of things in black and white, but when I look forward, I am always viewing things in terms of probabilities. If the numbers say Michigan is better than their opponent, I don't see that as a guaranteed victory, I want to understand how much better Michigan is and what their probability of winning would be. I think is what separates me from most other people. Our brains our wired to eliminate complexity so often times we look at results and the then identify the reasons that the result had to have happened, when in reality, there were probabilities associated with a number of outcomes and a lot more luck and randomness than we are comfortable with contributed to the specific result. Over the long run, these variances will usually
cancel themselves out, but they can wreak havoc on smaller time frames.
3. Some of your pieces take significant amounts of time (not to mention brain power) just to read-- How long does it take to put together a solid, statistically accurate post from concept to completion?
That's a really tough one to answer because I often have a hard time focusing so it’s often done over multiple sessions. Usually I have a couple of ideas kicking around in my head and once I get one I think I can go with, I start writing. Usually as I start writing with one key chart, table of conclusion but as I go I get a clearer picture of the hard data that is going to be needed to build the case. Once I do get going it moves pretty quickly and I am terrible at proofreading my work, so once the last sentence is penned
I tend to just hit publish and live with dumb errors!
We’re all guilty of that. I’ve always been impressed not only by your talent for gathering and analyzing large amounts of information, but also your ability to present it in a way that the common reader can understand. Is that a challenge? Or, should I say, how much do you hold back to keep it accessible for the masses?
My goal is to provide something that is as accessible as traditional stats but more valuable. Sometimes it’s difficult to bring it around, but I am still approaching it all
as a football fan first.
4. Sports and statistics have always gone together like maize and blue. Why is that? Why do we, as fans, enjoy rattling off numbers as much as watching the games themselves?
The numbers help tell the story of what we just saw, they affirm and shape our feelings about our favorite players and teams, they expand the experience. They give us a connection to our teams in between games. Since I started doing The Mathlete work, one of my favorite times of the week is after all the games have been played and all the play by plays are available. Going through game by game and adding them into my database and then seeing what comes out. Whose performance was better than I thought and who seemed to do well but didn't show up in the numbers.
5. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you work with numbers. But, without divulging too much information, can you describe what sort of field you’re involved in? And what do you like to do when you’re on your own time?
Believe it or not I do work with numbers for a living. For the most part I do demand planning and a production scheduling for a large corporation. In other words, I sold out to the man.
Most of my spare time is spent with my family. I have an 18 month old son who I am convinced is going to be the next Jake Long. Mrs. Mathlete isn't too keen on "offensive lineman" as my dream for our son, but she'll come around.
Aside from family, my life is generally sports related. Playing basketball, watching whatever sport is in season and thinking of new ways to analyze, predict or understand sports takes up enough of my time. I am working on getting a full-blown website up and running before football season starts so that I can make more information available but right now all I have is themathlete.com and absolutely no content.
Show your wife Jake Long's paycheck-- She'll come around. Describe the perfect meal.
My grandma used to make a dish called porkies. They had a ridiculous name and were never the most appetizing things to look at, but man were they good. How can you go wrong with what is essentially a giant meatball made of ham and sausage covered in a sauce that is 90% brown sugar. Add in some homemade mashed potatoes (no gravy) and you are likely to find me on the couch for the rest of the day watching football and regretting how much I ate while contemplating going back for more.
6. Can you explain why you are a Michigan fan?
I probably came by my Michigan fandom in a very different manner than most at MgoBlog. I grew up in Kansas with absolutely no connection to the state of Michigan. I think the only reason they came to be my favorite school is because growing up they were on TV more than anyone else other than Notre Dame and my dad hated the Irish, so I picked Michigan. The first time I remember cheering for them as "My Team" was in ‘91 with Desmond Howard. The next year saw the arrival of the Fab Five and I was hooked. I got accepted to Michigan for grad studies in Operations Research but a series of events led to it not happening. I am ashamed to admit I have never
attended a Michigan game live.
I was a fan for many years before finally making it out to my first game. I might argue that it meant more than a local’s first game, because of the pilgrimage, ‘Bucket List’-esque nature of the whole experience. When you do get up, it’ll be a life-changing trip. Finally, the staple last question-- who's your all-time favorite Wolverine?
It's not technically a player, but it would have to be the Fab Five. I had the book, I had a drawer full of the hideous black Nike socks, it didn't get any cooler than the Fab Five. My favorite Wolverine football player is probably Braylon Edwards if for no other reason than the damage I could do with him on NCAA Football.
Being a creative person both by profession and personality, I deal with abstract thoughts and ideas. My boundaries are only defined by the limits of imagination, and my work is grounded more by production details and budget than logic or validity. Perhaps that’s why I’m so fascinated by the results of Mathlete, and others like him who pour over numerical information to find the truth. Statistics are just raw data. It takes someone with a specific process of thought to manifest those numbers into concrete information that can prove one argument or disprove another. I, or anyone, can make ridiculous claims about a football team without any degree of accountability —the entire field of sports radio is built on this convenient truth— but a guy like Mathlete can take a box score and, with a fair degree of research, a certain level of intelligence, and a little bit of math, turn that raw information into indisputable fact. Unlike politicians, New Jersey women, and Michael Rosenberg… numbers do not lie.
See you guys next week for another edition of MGoProfile!