by Jason Snell
Why Apple’s Friday Night Baseball probabilities don’t add up
Ben Clemens of FanGraphs built a very simple statistical model to see if those detailed Apple TV+ Friday Night Baseball odds, which are generated via machine-learning algorithm by a company named nVenue, are as predictive as they seem.
His results suggest that they aren’t. In fact, they didn’t come close to beating Clemens’ simple model:
…the predictions shown on these broadcasts every Friday would lose money if they gambled against my objectively bad predictions. They’re flawed, perhaps past the point of usability.
That doesn’t mean there’s nothing cool in them. In that same Rangers-Astros game, Kole Calhoun stepped to the plate in a 1-1 tie in the top of the fourth. The broadcast displayed an 8% chance that he would hit a home run, more than triple the rate at which the league hits home runs on a per-PA basis. He promptly bopped the first pitch out. Power hitter, homer-prone Cristian Javier on the mound, Minute Maid Park; the odds truly should have been higher, and I think that insights like that are undeniably interesting.
At present, though, these odds are worse than not seeing odds on screen, at least as far as I’m concerned. I wish more people thought about baseball probabilistically, but having clearly inaccurate odds – Marcus Semien isn’t more likely to reach base on 0-2 than he is on 0-0, no matter what the screen says – could result in people trusting odds less, not more. Perhaps there are some more cool insights to be mined from this complex model, but for now, I think that showing these odds during broadcasts is doing viewers a disservice.
There are a lot of advanced stats Apple could choose to show on these telecasts that could inform and entertain viewers. But publishing raw probabilities from a machine-learning algorithm… isn’t it.