Monday, December 9, 2013

EP forfeited

Picture the scene. It’s February 2, 2014. We’re at the MetLife Stadium for Superbowl XLVIII. The opening kickoff has just gone for a touchback and out trots the offense. It’s first-and-ten. Here’s the snap and….

What the heck? The QB just spiked it. What a bizarre play call from the coach. It’s now second-and-ten. What is going on? Is the coach deliberately trying to lose this game?

Some time not much later in the game, with the score still tied, the coach faces fourth-and-two from the opponents 25. Out trots the field goal unit to attempt to give them the lead. “The field goal here is the right call”, proclaims Aikman. “You need to get points on the board. You don’t want to risk going for it and not coming away with something”

I’m sure you know where this is going. The opening spike, which would have been rightly called as crazy by everyone watching, cost the team 0.48 expected points. The field goal attempt, which would have been hailed as a no-brainer by the standard voices, cost them an almost identical 0.49 EP over going for it.

I got thinking about this after seeing a response to this tweet from the 4th Down Bot

In reply, @MattSantaMaria confidently stated that fractional points aren’t possible. Please go away and try again.

To be fair to him, he’s not wrong. Stating that a team cost themselves half a point is almost meaningless to someone who doesn’t have a grasp of probability. Explaining that attempting the field goal is as damaging to a team’s chances of winning as spiking the ball on the opening play of the game, however, might be more comprehensible.

Some other ‘crazy decision’ EP equivalents

  • Taking a deliberate delay-of-game penalty on third-and-five costs around 0.4 EP
  • Accepting an offside penalty when you’ve just gained 15 yards on a first-and-twenty play costs around 0.2 EP
  • Taking a knee on a second-and-five would cost around 0.65 EP

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