Archive for October, 2014

Still Need a Costume Idea? How About a Mask of the Messed Up NBA2K Facial Scans?

The folks at Polygon pointed out a nice Halloween treat provided by the folks at NBA2K. The hubbub around some of the terrible and sometimes frightening attempts at grafting one’s face onto an NBA 2K15 player is still palpable with some, and 2K Sports is attempting to take it in stride. In an effort to poke fun at themselves (or at least look like they are), the studio has released a Halloween mask making kit featuring eight of the more terrifying facial scan blunders.

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All you need is a color printer and some string (or poster board and a Popsicle stick) and you’re set to scare the daylights out of some people this weekend.

2K Sports also releases a video on how to get your own terrible facial scan. It seems like it’s meant in good fun, but it also kind of insults people who had legitimate problems with the game’s feature.

Still, if you want to go to a Halloween party dressed as an inside joke to end all inside jokes, these masks might be your ticket. You could even get seven friends (or more if you want to double up masks) to join you and have your own impromptu Pickup Game of Horror.


Review: Gametime’s Ticket Purchasing Via Mobile

Purchasing tickets online is nothing new, but Gametime has made the process even easier when buying from your mobile — Android or iOS only — device. The company has just update their free mobile app and now rather than refreshing a page again and again, the app now has a “pull to refresh” email style option. It’s a small change that goes a long way in terms of convenience.

Not only is it easier to search for tickets with the pull to refresh option, Gametime now shows exactly where you’ll be sitting. With a birds eye view of the stadium or a field view, you know if you’ll be up in the nosebleeds or right on the sideline.

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The field view gives the section, row and seat while showing what the field/court/rink will look like from the seats you’re interested in.

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The app allows purchasing up to 20 tickets per transaction and is within one second of real time availability. In an interview with VentureBeat, Chief Executive of Gametime Brad Griffith said of the updated ticket availability:

“We shifted to a video game style technology that can be immediately updated…It’s like playing a video game with another player. You have to keep it synchronized or it’s not a good experience.

Gametime currently works in 22 different cities and 60 venues. With app you can purchase tickets to NFL, MLB, NCAAF, MLS, NBA and NHL games. One downside is you’ll need a credit/debit card on file, as neither Paypal nor Venmo is currently a pay option.

Another curious quirk was the start times of certain games is wrong. After selecting Detroit as my city, it showed the Lions are playing at 8 am on Sunday, November 9. The game actually kicks off at 1 pm.

gametime2Gametime did get the University of Michigan game and the Pistons start time correct, but they were an hour early on the Michigan State game. There wasn’t a way to change your timezone, so make sure to cross check the actual game times with what is listed. After checking more Lions games, it appears as though each game time for the Detroit football team is wrong.

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If you happen to find any other unusual goings on, reporting them to Gametime is as easy as shooting an email to their feedback email address or one could call or text them from 8am-11pm Pacific at their 1-800 number. Both help options are listed on their website FAQ, not in-app however.

Overall the app does exactly what it should: purchasing tickets from mobile quickly and easily, usually  without having to print them off. A small number of venues still require a paper PDF ticket but that is outside of Gametime’s control. It can certainly be a useful app for everything from a last-minute decision to go to a game or if you just need an extra ticket while on the way to the stadium.


Microsoft Gets in the Health Tracking Game

Microsoft had long relegated themselves to the software business only. With the fairly-recent releases of the Surface and new Windows-branded phones, it seems as if the folks in Redmond were finally comfortable dipping their toes into the hardware waters. That’s even more evident today, as Microsoft has announced a new wearable fitness band called, simply, the Microsoft Band.

Microsoft Band does an interesting job of blurring the lines between fitness band and smartwatch. At a $200 price point, it falls in between those two categories as well. The device boasts 10 sensors, tracking things like heartbeat, sleep, and run/bike routes. Beyond those usual metrics, Microsoft Band will also look at UV data from the sun, and collect stress-level information. It also features a small touchscreen that can be used for notifications, call alerts, quick calendar viewing, and more.

The announcement of the device goes hand-in-hand with the release of Microsoft Health, a cross-platform app that lets you view stats about your activity, workout, and sleep habits. It will, of course, pair with Microsoft Band, but other device developers will be allowed to use the platform as well. Microsoft Health isn’t just relegated to Windows phones either, as an iOS and Android version of the app are now available. At the current time, it appears as if you can only pair a Microsoft Band with the app, and not any third-party devices.

The device, at least according to Microsoft’s official photos, looks pretty sleek. And they’ve packed a lot of functionality into that little guy as well. Like the upcoming FitBit offerings, Microsoft is looking to add enough functionality to the device to appeal to people who want a combo meal of tracker and smartwatch, without adding too many whistles so as to make the price a nonstarter.

$200 isn’t an insignificant amount of money, but for the health- and fitness-conscious, it might be the sweet spot of data gathering and smartphone functionality.

The Microsoft Band is available for preorder, or for immediate purchase at your local Microsoft Store.


Strava’s Expanding Role

Strava, makers of the workout app of the same name — available for free on iOS and Android — is venturing further into their client’s lives. On top of their GPS tracking, challenge-a-friend routines and viewable stats, Strava is seeking to join you up with local runners and cyclists as well.

With their Strava Metro system already in place showing where people are running or biking, the next step for the company seems to become a social app as well as a fitness one. With $18.5 million from the latest investor group, Sequoia Capital, and prior groups Sigma West and Madrone Capital Partners, Strava is seeking to bring fitness-minded people together.

In a press release, Michael Moritz, Chairman of Sequoia Capital said:

“Strava is building tomorrow’s sporting network in the manner that Facebook and LinkedIn have developed today’s social and professional networks. Even for the hapless and occasional athletes at Sequoia, Strava has become the essential and amusing way to post and compare our woeful performances and share them with friends and family,”

From using Strava Metro to map out a popular routine, to soon being able to map out a group run with similarly-conditioned strangers, Strava is aiming to becoming a social workout company. Strava already ties in with Instagram so hashtagging, taking morning sunrise pictures or anything that may catch one’s eye is quick and easy. Given the recent investment and the idea on how to use said investment, Strava CEO Mark Gainey was quoted as saying:

“Since day one we have focused on building a network that serves to motivate and entertain the world’s athletes. With Sequoia joining our team, we are better positioned to execute our mission and strengthen Strava’s leadership in digital sports.”

According to the company FAQ, Strava has collected over 300 billion GPS points and boasts over 2.5 million GPS tracked activities being uploaded each week. With funding in hand, a growing user base and a constantly expanding sample size, Strava appears to be the app of choice for many running and cycling enthusiasts.


Game Developer Sims Mets Season in a Tiny Citi Field

We here at TechGraphs are big fans of Out of the Park Baseball (OOTP), and you should be too. It’s an immensely deep and feature-rich baseball simulator that allows you to create your own dream team using past or present players. Do to its extreme customizability, it also makes for some great thought experiments.

Recently, the New York Mets announced that they would, once again, be moving in the outfield fences in the right-center portion of Citi Field to make the park a little more hitter friendly. This will be the second time since 2012 the outfield fences have been tweaked with. The news lead to a myriad of jokes on Twitter, including this:

Which led to this:

Which led to the fine folks at OOTP actually testing this theory out. Over on the OOTP blog, Brad Cook outlines just how he went about simulating a 2015 Mets season with a home park that was the Bandbox to Rule Them All.

Cook actually uses two methodologies, one with a straight 150-foot fence, and one with a slightly more realistically curved one. Click the link for the full details, but be prepared for Ike Davis to win the Triple Crown (and still be less valuable than Mike Trout). Needless to say, the Mets score a lot of runs and give up a lot of runs. But in one scenario, they actually manage to be a pretty decent team (there’s hope, Mets fans!)

OOTP is a wonderful game to play the “normal” way, but it’s tricks and tweaks like these that make it all the more enjoyable. On a similar note, friend of the site Patrick Dubuque performed a similar-ish experiment, creating four teams consisting of nothing but Adam Dunns, Koji Ueharas, Dee Gordons, and Bartolo Colons. This type of thing slices through the meaty side of life, and when the winter doldrums hit my abode, you can be sure that I’ll be experimenting like this until Spring Training starts.

(Header image via Cathy T)

Potential Breakthrough in ACL Injury Prevention

Most everyone remembers the old “shin bone connected to the knee bone, knee bone connected to the thigh bone” song. While not exactly taught in medical school, everything in the leg is connected one way or another. And according to a recent study, calf muscles, not hamstrings may have more to do with ACL and knee injuries than previously thought.

The study was conducted by The University of Western Australia’s School of Sport Science as well as the University of Tennessee’s Exercise and Health program. The groups observed a series of Australian Rules football players each doing single leg jump landings while attempting to grab a football.

Analysts set up a series of 12-cameras to create a three-dimensional computer model of each football player’s jumping and landing. The findings surprised the researches and Assistant Professor Cyril Donnelly of UWA said:

“This was initially surprising as 30 years of clinical research has suggested the hamstring muscles were key players for supporting the knee during sporting tasks, We are not saying you don’t use your hamstrings, just not as much as we originally thought.”

The previously linked article states over 200,000 ACL injuries occur every year in the United States alone, and these numbers by the University of California, San Francisco claim approximately 70% of these injuries occur playing sports. Soccer, football, skiing and basketball being the primary sports behind ACL injuries.

Be it a figure skater coming off of a double-axel, a defender trying to head a corner kick out of his box or an outfielder leaping at the wall to rob a home run, one-leg jump landings are incredibly common in many sports. From an injury prevention standpoint or even rehabbing post-injury, perhaps we’ll begin to see trainers and medical staff focus more on the calf when dealing with ACL issues.

(Header photo via Becky Stern)

Amazon Releases Fire TV Stick – Another Cheap Way to Stream Sports Content (and Other Stuff)

Cord-cutters looking for a device to stream their favorite (out-of-market, of course) sports have no shortage of options. Most gaming consoles have plenty of sports app offerings. Other products like Apple TV, Roku, and Chromecast have a lot of overlap in their app choices as well. For most, much of their decision comes down to which ecosystem in which they are already entrenched. Already bought a bunch of stuff on iTunes? Apple TV might be for you. People who use Google Play for a lot of purchases might find Chromecast to be more prudent. Recently, Amazon got into the streaming device game as well, offering the Fire TV that piggybacked on their ever-expanding package of services. Though the original Fire TV came in at a very reasonable $99, Amazon has just released the smaller Fire TV Stick for less than half of that. And if you’re an Amazon Prime member already, you can nab one for an even more enticing number — $19.

The Fire TV Stick and the already established (and well reviewed) Roku stick look a lot alike. While Roku tries to remain platform agnostic, the Fire TV Stick, like it’s predecessor, is heavily tied in to Amazon’s Prime Service, which offers TV and Movie rentals and purchases, free streaming of some content, and a streaming music catalog. The Stick is priced at $39, $4 more than a Chromecast and $11 less than a Roku Streaming Stick, but current Prime members can get it for less than a Jackson. Non-Prime users can even sign up for a 30-day free trial and still get the discount. Users of MLB.TV and NBA League Pass will be able to follow those sports with the respective apps on Fire TV Stick, and the device also offers support for WatchESPN. Of course, other services like Netflix and Hulu are also included.

The streaming device market is a competitive one. For my money, Roku still offers the best selection of sports-streaming apps. But if you’re already tied into the Amazon ecosystem, that tasty price point plus the added ability to watch baseball and basketball might just be enough to sway you.


Study Shows Technology Advancements Can Help Figure Skating Safety

The body of a figure skater is put under an extreme of abuse. The jumps involved create a great deal of force on the lower body. Currently, it is not really possible to measure just how much force is being absorbed, or where. Some scientists are hoping to change that.

A new article from IOP Science says that there’s a lack of resources available to ensure the health and safety of figure skaters. However, this study says that there have been advancements in trying to create a blade that will help towards that goal.

The abstract covers “the development of an instrumented figure skating blade for measuring forces on-ice.” There’s a lot of physics involved, but this is the most interesting part of the abstract:

The measurement system consists of strain gauges attached to the blade, Wheatstone bridge circuit boards, and a data acquisition device. 

The rest of the abstract goes into detail about how the technology works.

The system is capable of measuring forces in the vertical and horizontal directions (inferior–superior and anterior–posterior directions, respectively) in each stanchion with a sampling rate of at least 1000 Hz and a resolution of approximately one-tenth of body weight.

Scientists are hoping that the data collected from this device will help people better understand the magnitude and the location of these intense forces on a figure skater’s body. This information will help go toward the prevention of use injuries — i.e. injuries caused by overexertion (strained muscle) rather than a singular incident (broken bone). Because of the nature of the sport, the only way to collect that data is actually while on the ice. Micro-computing has now made that a reality.

(Header photo via Dr.frog)

A Workout Worth Your Time

From the “8-minute abs (VHS alert!) ” to even the “7-minute abs” we have seen time become a critical factor in choosing our workouts. From jogging just every other day to maybe twice a week, to perhaps once a week, I’ve seen the ugly side of sitting at a desk firsthand. Things changed for the better last year when The New York Times launched their Scientific 7-Minute Workout app and today they released the advanced version for iOS and Android. Now between the two apps, the combined workout is still probably less than your commute to work.

The original 7-Minute Workout required only yourself, a stable chair and the wall isn’t particularly challenging, but still well worth the minimal time investment. A non-rolling chair is best suited for the required tricep dips, but if all you have is a roller then make sure to brace it against the wall.

workout3To help guide you on your quest to workout more frequently is a voiced personal trainer. You’re able to pick either male, female or no voiceover whatsoever. Be warned, if you do opt for the trainer, your music — at least on iOS — will stop playing. It isn’t the end of the world, but I can’t remember the last time I worked out without any music to distract me.

workout1The advanced version requires a pair of dumbbells — of whichever weight you feel comfortable to start with, you can always increase the weight as you progress — but those are something that can be found fairly cheap either online or at any sports store. The advanced workout is defined as:

“A more demanding nine-step regimen than the original 7-Minute Workout, one that requires of a couple of dumbbells but still only takes seven minutes.”

After going through both workouts this morning I can already tell I should do these more frequently. Luckily it is basically winter here in midwest, so I can rationalize and consider these extra pounds to be my hibernation weight. Both the standard 7-Minute and the Advanced 7-Minute Workouts are well worth the time. Given the accompanying price of absolutely free, I highly recommend this for anyone else who finds themselves pinned to a desk 40+ hours per week. The app won’t immediately whip you into shape — diet of course comes to play — however for less than a quarter of an hour each day, there is no reason to pass on it.

A full step-by-step workout guide is available at The New York Times link posted in the opening paragraph or by clicking here.


Augmented Reality and the Spectator Sport

We are already accustomed to seeing unreal sights in our sports. But what about seeing tracers for free throws and drive charts on the gridiron when we are at the stadium?

When the yellow line appears on the first down line, we don’t hide behind our couches in caveman fear, nor do we dive under the bed when car names and driver photos appear above the machines zipping around the Daytona Speedway. And baseball fans have embraced the new MLB Statcast, which debuted during the 2014 MLB All-Star break and has shined in the 2014 MLB postseason. It essentially quantifies every movement on a baseball field and then visualizes the data for viewers at home:

But Google’s recent acquisition of startup Magic Leap has me pondering the next integration of the real and non-real sports experience. Here’s a quick primer on Magic Leap and why it’s important:
Read the rest of this entry »


Friendly Reminder: You Can Watch the World Series Through MLB.TV

You may have been able to plop yourself in your favorite couch these past couple days, but those out and about this weekend might not have that luxury. If you’ll be away from the friendly confines of your living room this Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, you won’t be out of luck if you want to catch the World Series.

For the first time ever, MLB.TV will be streaming the FOX broadcast of the World Series. No blackouts, no weird second-screen nonsense, no trying to set up a proxy on your phone. There are (of course) a couple of catches:

  • You will need to be a current MLB.TV subscriber. If you aren’t yet, you can pick up a subscription for $9.99. If you pay now, you get a free month of MLB.TV in 2015, for what that’s worth.
  • You need to log in with a valid TV provider account through one of: DirecTV, Optimum, Time Warner Cable,Verizon FiOS, AT&T U-verse TV, COX, Bright House Networks, Buckeye, Arvig, WOW!, Suddenlink, or Consolidated Communications. Comcast/Xfinity is a glaring omission here, though that could possibly be remedied through the Fox Sports Go app.

The need for a cable/satellite login is off-putting, since FOX broadcasts the games for free over the air anyhow. The good news is that anyone with the above providers can access the games without the need to have special channels or packages.

It’s not perfect, but it’s still a better option than what was available the past few years. Cord-cutters are still left in the cold, but those with even the cheapest cable packages will be all set to go to watch the Fall Classic no matter where they are.


Exploring FindTheBest.com’s Player Pages

Overview

FindTheBest.com is a [re]search engine that aggregates data from on- and off-line to give users detailed overviews of and the ability to compare products, services, industries, employers, and other topics. They structure information in a visually-oriented way with lots of graphs, charts, and tables. It’s aesthetically engaging and easy to use. More about what they do, per their About page:

There’s a tremendous amount of information on the web, but no way to know it all and be confident that you’ve reached the best conclusion. Search engines and topic-specific websites are great at returning facts, but not so much at providing knowledge. We’re collecting, structuring, and connecting all the world’s data so you have everything you need to research with confidence.

It’s a pretty useful tool for comparing hotels in an area, airlines, or even colleges, among other things. But it appears that the company’s ambition extends far beyond that. When I first happened upon FindTheBest, being a dutiful baseball nerd, I immediately started to explore their MLB player pages.

Read the rest of this entry »


Video Training Tool Ubersense Now Available on Android

Those wanting access to video training and analysis tool Ubersense no longer have to switch platforms, as the company has announced that an Android version of their popular mobile app is now available. Ubersense uses your devices camera to capture high-speed video of your performance for later reviewing. It offers slow-motion playback and drawing tools to break down movement frame by frame and help understand body position and angles. Ubersense claims it’s had over 2.5 million downloads since its inception from athletes in over 50 sports. Ubersense has even been used by US Olympic bobsledders.

The sport independence of Ubersense was always its selling point. While specific tools and apps for golfers and tennis players have been around for some time, Ubsersense doesn’t differentiate. It can be used by baseball players, bowlers, track and field competitors, and even dancers. Anyone who wants to take a look at themselves or their students in a hyper-specific manner can use the app.

Now, Ubersense can also boast platform independence. The Android offering comes in lockstep with their acquisition by Hudl, a similar app that focuses more on the coaching side of the sport.

Ubersense is a free download on either the iOS or Android stores, with a monthly or yearly charge for Ubersense Elite, which offers the ability to upload videos to online storage and sync across multiple devices.

(Photo via Ubersence Facebook)

Review: Trade Rumors App

The wonderful folks who run the Trade Rumors websites launched their latest app today. Rather than individual apps for MLB, Hoops and NFL goings on, now all three are together in a single free download for iOS and Android users.

trade2The welcome screen loads all three sports at once, however a simple touch of the settings button allows the user to toggle which rumors they’d prefer to see. Running all three sports took a moment to load, so I decided to parse down the content.

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As a baseball fan — the only football I follow is fútbol — fan I decided to hide both Hoops and NFL news. Upon narrowing the field down to only MLB news, I added my beloved Oakland Athletics.

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Rather than just teams, the minds behind the app also allow the user to add news updates for specific players. If you’re looking for news on free agents, say, Hanley Ramirez or Max Scherzer, it’s as simple as typing their name in the search field.

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In addition to customizable players and teams, you’re also given the option to filter All Stories or just Top Stories within each field. It’s impossible to tell what constitutes a Top Story, so it seems prudent to leave the default All Stories on.

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The free app does a perfect job of keeping people up to date on trades, signings and the like. It’s a condensed version of their full site, and that is a compliment. Trade Rumors is basically an RSS feed for whichever team or player you could want, without the need to set up a real RSS feed. Given the quality of work from the Trade Rumors people over the years, it should be no surprise to see their latest project work so well.


Video Game Company Calls the World Series for the Royals (Barely)

We’ve been trying to predict baseball since baseball became a thing. Whether its preseason predictions on who would win the divisions or guesses at who win the Series, we love to take a crack at playing fortuneteller. Some people look at recent performances, some look at pitching matchups or bullpen strength. Heck, some might flip a coin. One gaming company tried to leverage their very powerful software to try and pick a World Series winner this year, and the results are really close.

Out of the Park Baseball (OOTP) is a simulation-based baseball game for computers and mobile devices. The game doesn’t let you aim a pitch or swing a bat, it instead gives you control over a franchise on a extremely granular level — drafting players, signing free agents, hiring/firing coaches, constructing lineups — at every level of competition from Single-A up. Games can use current MLBers, historical teams, or a pool of randomly-generated players to create a realistic simulations over one season or the course of many seasons. Our own Bradley Woodrum wrote a complete review of the game for NotGraphs in April.

OOTP takes great pride in their simulations software, and they put that software to the test recently. On their official blog, they outline their methodology and results for the five-series simulation.  You can check out the blog for the full rundown — they even provide a nice spreadsheet for quick analysis — but their numbers show the Royals as their favorite by a very slim margin.

To celebrate the upcoming fun, OOTP is also offering a 50% discount on their game during the World Series and offering the mobile version for a buck. If you haven’t picked the game up yet, now’s a great time as OOTP is a perfect remedy for the throws throes of winter. Plus, if you’re not a Giants or Royals fan, you can take a crack at controlling your favorite team and try and get them into the World Series for your own bit of manufactured joy.

 


Review: FLIP Sports App

In addition to standard fantasy football — err, actually soccer — options such as Yahoo!, ESPN and the like, FLIP Sports offers a brand new way for Android and iOS users to participate in the biggest sport in the world. FLIP (Fantasy League In-Play) Sports doesn’t require any initial signup fees, league dues or even a multi-hour draft process to select your team. The premise of the app is to use it as a “an engaging & compelling second screen experience.”

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If FLIP Sports aimed to make fantasy football/soccer easier, then it certainly succeeded. It helps to have a working knowledge of clubs and rosters, but the app is easy to navigate. After the initial download, just pick what fixture you want to play in.flip2

Once you’ve nailed down which teams you’ll be using, it’s time to pick your lineup. I chose my team late Friday, prior to the real-life lineups being announced, so I gambled and got lucky. Unfortunately I could not tell if the app differentiates between who is in the lineup and who isn’t so I used the Forza widget to cross check lineups. There are certain options within the lineup as you can change the format from the default 2-2-1 formation to a more attacking 2-1-2 lineup. You’re also forced to choose players from both teams — a minimum of two from each club — so no stacking your lineup with all of one side. The match I picked was Arsenal vs. Hull City.

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Now with a lineup in hand, it’s time to choose what type of competition you’ll be in. The app is fairly new and none of my friends had it yet, and thus private or head-to-head wasn’t an option. Off to the public league went my chosen lineup. Rather than real money, you wager FLIP Coins. It cost x many to join a public league, y for a head to head, etc. The more people playing, the bigger the pot grows, similar to poker.

As I was reading the rules, a rather annoying screen popped up several times. Despite being on Wi-Fi, the following screen was flashed on my device repeatedly. It’s still a new app, so I’m willing to bend on loading screens, but I do expect things to be cleaned up in the future.flip5

Since one of the ideas of the app is real-time second screen viewing, the instant scoring updates on my lineup was quite nice. Everything from goals to defensive clearances to clean sheets for goalies accumulate points. Negative categories such as yellow and red cards and even things as simple as losing possession of the ball hurt you. Even with negative categories — something I’m not terribly keen on, but I understand the importance of — my team was winning the public league, at least through the first half!

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The downside of being a new app shows again, as I was one of only five participants in this fixture. Presuming this app gains traction and popularity, the number of public league players will of course rise. Unfortunately, I was hit with yet another “connection interrupted” screen.

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Even with the mild annoyances, I was victorious! I didn’t use the “booster” option, something that gives 2x the points for the chosen player for 10 minutes as I think it’s a bit cheesy to do so. The game stands on its own legs, no need for gimmicks.

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Overall FLIP Sports is very fun, though there are some technical glitches to work through. I do hope more people join on as it’s a quick and easy way to root for players other than those on your favorite squad. It isn’t perfect for everything, but if you’re the competitive type looking for a free daily fantasy league, FLIP Sports is perfect for that.


ESPN Continues esports Experiment

Between esports scholarships and ESPN previously showing the Defense of the Ancients 2 — or DotA 2 — on their ESPN3 stream, the “worldwide leader” is continuing their foray into esports. Yesterday ESPN announced their intent to broadcast the League of Legends — commonly shortened to LoL — World Championship finals on ESPN3 this Sunday, October 19 at 2:30 am Eastern, 11:30 pm Pacific. The finals are being held in South Korea, almost inarguably the esports capital of the world.

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The announcement came as a bit of a surprise given not even a month ago ESPN President John Skipper didn’t mince words on his thoughts on the esports as a sport debate at the Code/Media Series: New York:

“It’s not a sport — it’s a competition. Chess is a competition. Checkers is a competition…Mostly, I’m interested in doing real sports.”

The signals may be getting mixed, as according to some sources, ESPN execs were “delighted” with the viewership numbers from their DotA 2 stream. While there may not be any other DotA 2 events in the near future for ESPN, it is clear the network is interested in esports.

Athletes are getting on the esports hype train too. Gordon Hayward of the Utah Jazz recently tweeted his affection for LoL while simultaneously challenging LeBron James. Hayward, no stranger to esports has previously mentioned StarCraft II and even joined a StarCraft II tournament.

Regardless of whether professional athletes join the ranks of professional gamers, ESPN has clearly found the previously little niche genre of esports is rapidly growing. Between the streams available on Twitch.TV, YouTube and ESPN, plenty of LoL action will be viewable this weekend. While we aren’t at the point of tailgating for esports, we’re getting awfully close. As more and more companies realize the viewership potential, ad revenue and product placement opportunities, expect the contrast between esports and sports continue to fade.
(Header image via Riot Games, makers of League of Legend)


New Sensor Detects Concussions Not in the Helmet, but the Head

A company based in Washington state, i1 Biometrics, is taking a different approach to using sensor tech to detect concussions in football players. Other companies that work in this space, like The Shockbox, rely on sensors placed in the helmet. As Information Week reports, i1 Biometrics is cutting out the middle man, so to speak, and looking to gather data right from the source. They are working on a device that will track collisions from the head itself by using another piece of already-used equipment — the mouthguard.

The reasoning behind this is fairly straightforward. According to CEO Jesse Harper (via Information Week):

“We’re not the first sensor company to enter the space,” […] “One of our main differences is accuracy.” Because the mouthguard is in contact with the skull, “everywhere your upper jaw goes, the mouthpiece goes.”

By comparison, he said, sensors attached to helmets measure the impact to the helmet, not the head.

It’s certainly an interesting idea, and their reasoning for using a different approach not only differentiates them from competitors, but has the potential to do more accurate tracking. i1’s product also utilizes a different communication method to relay the information to the devices that collect the data. i1 doesn’t trust SMS or Bluetooth to be 100% reliable in a stadium full of fans with their own mobile devices. To avoid coverage outages or missed communications, the mouthguard leverages a proprietary radio signal. If the signal is lost, the mouthguard stores the data locally until the link can be restored.

With the increased scrutiny sports like football and hockey are under to ensure player’s safety, technology that captures head trauma data is big business these days. i1 isn’t the only company looking to make players safer while making a profit at the same time. While taking any steps to studying and preventing brain injuries is a good thing, the entire market could come down to which product is most accurate. By getting as close to the brain as possible (without sci-fi implants at least), i1 is trying to get data right from the source.

(Header image via Erik Drost)

Using Vlookup for Sports Data

Modern spreadsheet programs are powerful. Compared to what our ancestors had to deal with — pen and paper spreadsheets — Excel, Google Spreadsheets, and LibreOffice / Open Office type programs are basically alien. And I mean that both in the utility and the intuitiveness of these programs. While they are incredibly useful in combing data for information, they are also full of hidden treasures — and a productivity program should never have hidden anythings.

Each of these programs has a little gem called “vlookup.” The vlookup function stands for “vertical lookup.” As we might expect, there is also a “horizontal lookup,” which is basically the same thing, but it scans columns instead of rows. The vlookup function is especially useful for when we want to combine information from across two tables. But first we need a question. Playing with data for the sake of playing with data is not super helpful — usually.

So here’s our question: Who is the most important hitter to any given team?

There are a lot of ways to approach this question, but since we want to use vlookups, let’s further this inquiry by asking: Which player has the highest wRC+ relative to the rest of his team? The weighted runs created plus (wRC+) statistic is great because it measures a players total offensive output, but it also controls for era, stadium, and league.

In order to answer this second question, we will need to know our data. We can get each individual player’s wRC+ from the FanGraphs leaderboard here. Using the Export Data button, we can get a CSV of each leaderboard page in an instant.

Here's the button that makes FanGraphs leaderboards so nifty for outside data analysis programs like Excel or Tableau.

Here’s the button that makes FanGraphs leaderboards so nifty for outside data analysis programs like Excel or Tableau.

Then, we want the team data. Navigate over to the Teams tab and choose the “NP” or non-pitchers button. This gives the team-level offensive numbers without those nasty pitchers gumming up the data with their strike outs and pop outs and trickle outs.

After we’ve exported both data, we can open them either by navigating to the Downloads folder and opening them with Excel, or just clicking the download icon in Chrome or Firefox or Internet Explorer if you’re stuck at work and it’s 1997. I oftentimes have multiple instances of Excel open (for my multi-monitor madness) and so I like to drag the download icon into the Excel window.

I'm a dragger. I like to drag the downloaded files. And if you have multiple Excel windows running (which isn't necessary for this, but what the hey; we all need to look busy at work, right?), then dragging should be a preferred method.

I’m a dragger. I like to drag the downloaded files. And if you have multiple Excel windows running (which isn’t necessary for this, but — what the hay? — we all need to look busy at work, right?), then dragging should be a preferred method.

Now we have all the data we want; we just need to combine it. Enter vlookups.

To keep things neat, let’s combine our two separate workbooks. This isn’t a necessary step, but it will help our formula bars be more readable. Right click the tab of one of the worksheets (it doesn’t matter which) and choose Move or Copy…. This will open a dialogue asking where you want to move the worksheet. Using the drop down menu, choose the other workbook and click okay. This should combine the two disparate worksheets into a single workbook. (I’d also go ahead and rename them too, just for whatever’s sake.)

Combining the two worksheets is not a necessary step, but it can simplify the formulas later. Also: It keeps all your data in one place, which is good for later when you reopen the stuff.

Combining the two worksheets is not a necessary step, but it can simplify the formulas later. Also: It keeps all your data in one place, which is good for later when you reopen the stuff.

I’ve renamed my two worksheets (or tabs) as “Players” for the first set of data and “Teams” for the data we took from the teams leaderboard. On the players tab, we’ll want to add a column called “Team wRC+”. So in cell W1, I write just that, and then in cell W2 I begin to type the vlookup formula by writing =vlookup(.

The syntax for the whole formula is:

=VLOOKUP(lookup_value, table_array, col_index_num, range_lookup)

The terms:

  1. lookup_value: What do I want Excel to use to find something? What is the key to unlock the information door? In this case, I want Excel to find the team wRC+ by using a player’s listed wRC+, so the lookup_value needs to be B1, which is where the column “Team” is in this particular spreadsheet. (Now press comma.)
  2. table_array: Where is the data? Or where is the doorway for the aforementioned key? The answer to this question is the data that is in my “Teams” tab — the team totals data from our second CSV download. I’ll navigate to the Team tab, click in cell A:1 and drag until you’ve selected the whole table. Now, we don’t want this selection to move later on (because this table is not moving; it’s dead), so press F4 to add cashmoney symbols in front of your cell references. (Now press comma.)
  3. col_index_num: In which column will Excel find the desired data? Or where in the room is the prize? For this, we need to find which column the team wRC+ is listed in. That’s column P, which is the 16th column in our table_array (because we count every column, including the first). So here, we’ll write 16. (Now press comma.)
  4. range_lookup: Do we want Excel to find an exact match for the lookup_value? OF COURSE. DON’T BE SO FREAKIN’ LAZY, EXCEL. YOU’RE A ROBOT, YOU DON’T GET TIRED. Type a 0 (zero) or FALSE in here. (Now close the parenthesis and hit enter.)

Look at that! If all has gone according to plan, you should have a number populating that W2 cell (probably a “111” if Mike Trout is at the top of your list and you’re using the 2014 season data). If there is a problem and we’re getting an error message, we can always find out where that particular error is occurring by using the Evaluate Formula function (Formulas > Evaluate Formula).

Your formula, en totale, should look something like this:

This is what your formula and result should ultimately look like. Make sure to have the dollar signs in their, which will make it an absolute reference rather than a relative reference.

This is what your formula and result should ultimately look like. Make sure to have the dollar signs in their, which will make it an absolute reference rather than a relative reference.

Now we need to apply that formula to all the cells in the column. We can drag that bottom right corner of that “111” cell, or copy and then paste on the empty cells, or whatever the hell we want.

If all goes well, you should get a few #N/As. These mean that something went wrong in the formula. Let’s use the Evaluate Formula button (Formulas > Evaluate Formula) to find out what went wrong. If you’re using the same data as me, go to the first #N/A, which should be Chase Headley at W34.

The Evaluate Formula pop up window will then walk us through the steps of the formula and we can see the point at which it all goes terribly wrong. Clicking “Evaluate” one time shows us this:

Unless we add a "- - -" value to the Teams page, this will always return an "#N/A" result.

Unless we add a “- – -” value to the Teams page, this will always return an “#N/A” result.

The problem here is that the formula is looking for a team named “- – -” in the Teams tab. That’s because the Padres traded Headly to the Yankees in 2014, so he has two teams on record. There’s a variety of ways to work around this (the most easy method being: check the box marked “Split Teams” on the FanGraphs leaderboard), but I just wanted to should have Evaluate Formula can be useful.

Anyway, to finish out our question (“Which hitters meant the most to their teams?”), we need some more calculations. For the ease of viewing, let’s add another column to this data. (Normally, I’d just thrust these additional calculations into the formula I’ve already got going, but that has the downside of looking complex and hiding additional errors.)

In order to get a Team+ stat (that’s the name we’ll use for our wRC+ applied to the team level), we’ll need to find the players’ differences from their team’s wRC+ and index them, the way wRC+ does. The formula for that would be something like:

TeamPlus Formula

Applying that Mike Trout’s 167 wRC+ and the Angels’ 111 wRC+, the formula would look like:

Trout Formula

Putting that into Excel, we’ll get something along the lines of this:

If all goes well, it will output a number. I like to take away the decimal places because science.

If all goes well, it will output a number. I like to take away the decimal places because science.

Where Q2 is the wRC+ column (Q) and Mike Trout Row (2), and W2 is the Team wRC+ column (W) and the Mike Trout row (2). For the 2014 data, this should result in Mike Trout having a 150 Team+ or thereabouts.

After applying the formula to the remaining players, we get a top five Team Most Valuable Hitters of:

Name Team PA wRC+ Team wRC+ Team+
Jose Abreu White Sox 622 165 97 170
Anthony Rizzo Cubs 616 153 93 165
Giancarlo Stanton Marlins 638 159 99 161
Adrian Beltre Rangers 614 141 89 158
Seth Smith Padres 521 133 88 151

Well done, Mr. Rookie! Jose Abreu may not have had as strong a season as Andrew McCutchen — the league’s top hitter — but nobody meant more to his lineup than Abreu, according to the measures we’re using here.

I hope this instruction was helpful. Let me know if you have additional questions.


Arizona Fall League Implements Tech to Speed Up Pace of Play

At Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the Arizona Fall League’s Salt River Rafters play their home games with NBA-style shot clocks installed on the field: one in the outfield, two on the backstop, and one in each dugout. All of this is part of MLB’s pace of game initiative intended to shorten the total time of a game.

The rules are simple enough. According to the AFL media guide, pitchers have 20 seconds to throw a pitch. If a pitcher holds the ball for more than 20 seconds without throwing it, a ball will be called. A batter must stay in the box during those 20 seconds, prepared for the pitch; if the batter steps out of the box during that period without calling time, the pitcher may throw the ball and an umpire can call it a strike. The 20 second rule begins once the pitcher is in possession of the ball.

In addition to the 20 second rule, there is a maximum inning break of two minutes and five seconds. The batter must enter the box by the 1:45 mark, otherwise, umpires will call an automatic strike. If the pitcher doesn’t throw the ball by the time the 2:05 is up, the umpire will call an automatic ball.

For pitching changes, there is a 2:30 clock that starts once the new pitcher steps onto the warning track or crosses the foul line. An automatic ball may be called if the new pitcher does not throw before the 2:30 is up.

There is also a maximum of three time outs allowed in a game, called by either player, coach, or manager (such as a visit to the mound). This excludes coaching visits due to an injury or an emergency.

DSC_2665

Tyler Heineman, a catcher in the Houston Astros organization, said that players still have to get used to the rules being enforced. As of publish date, there have only been two games played with the clocks in use.

“I thought the pace of game was alright,” Heineman said. “A couple times, we got messed up with a couple of ball ones starting off the inning. Other than that, it was fine.”

Arizona Diamondbacks outfield prospect Evan Marzilli said that the rules change everything.

“It’s not something you’re used to,” Marzilli said. “I mean, I guess if we’re gonna have to implement them, we’re gonna have to go through them.”

Both Heineman and Salt River manager Andy Haines noted that the clocks may force pitchers to rush their routine a bit to get warmup pitches in before the 2:30 concludes.

“It might take away from their first couple of pitches because they’re out of gas,” Heineman said.

Haines added, “I know you see guys kinda jog or walk from the pen. That’s definitely different. There is no jogging or walking or else you won’t be able to throw any warmups. It’s definitely a sense of urgency to get out there.”

A lot of the changes being made are more of a mental challenge for players than anything. Heineman said that he thinks pitchers are trying to zone it out as much as possible.

“In the beginning of the innings, it might speed up their routine a little bit, but in between pitches, the 20 seconds really has no effect on them,” Heineman said.

Marzilli agreed that the 20 second rule doesn’t affect him.

“The between pitches [clock] doesn’t really bother me too much,” Marzilli said. “But definitely being in the outfield, coming in, having to run, and kinda rush, it’s something you’re not used to.”

Pitchers throwing within the 2:05 and 2:30 periods is something that they noted they needed to work on, with the Rafters’ starting pitcher Mark Appel being caught going past the time mark and starting off the count at 1-0.

“We saw [the differences] tonight, with a bunch of balls being called that guys weren’t even throwing them,” Marzilli said. “It is different, but we’ll see how it works out.”

DSC_2678

Prior to the beginning of the AFL season, Haines said that the Salt River club ran simulated games where they would time the pitchers from the bullpen.

“Just to give them a heads up of where they were, that you were on schedule, you’re a little slow,” Haines said, “so they weren’t totally thrown off guard when they got out here, so they got a little bit of a heads up.”

Testing the initiative in the Fall League is something that makes the most sense, according to Haines.

“I don’t think any of us want them to try to experiment at the major league stadium,” Haines said. “They need to experiment; this is certainly the place to do it. I don’t think that’s even debatable.”

Haines respects Major League Baseball for the initiative itself, calling it something that they’re doing that is best for the game, even if it is a short period of time to test it in the Fall League. Haines also does not think that it will affect players negatively — in fact, it would only help them in the long run.

“If they do want to implement this, these players here will have an advantage because they’ll be conditioned a little bit,” Haines said. “I think that’s the way to look at it. I don’t see it being a disadvantage besides the fact that they’re just gonna have to run out there instead of walk or whatever their routine is, and just be aware of it. It’s a short window. They’re not asking us to do this for six months. It’s a six-week season. And it’s limited exposure for the players as far as this goes. And we’re getting good feedback. If they make a mistake, it’s ball one, it’s not the end of the world. We’ll learn from it.”

All photos by Jen Mac Ramos.