Monday, October 03, 2016

Fumbles That Hit You Right in the Feelings

Football season is in high gear, even if my Carolina Panthers are off to a woeful start.

Yesterday’s game versus the Atlanta Falcons was especially distressing, given how evident it was from the very beginning the defense wasn’t going to be able to stop Atlanta’s passing game. Reigning MVP Cam Newton going out in the second half after suffering a concussion just made things less pleasant.

The Panthers losing presents a specific problem for me in my Pigskin Pick’em pool (where we pick games straight up, not versus the spread), as I dislike picking against them. That bias wasn’t so much of an issue last year when they went 15-1, but it’s already earned me three “X” marks this year.

Otherwise I’ve done well so far with my picks, although yesterday got me thinking once more about the relative pain and pleasure that comes from various outcomes.

My buddy Robert Woolley, a.k.a. the “Poker Grump,” wrote a nice article for PokerNews recently titled “Mountains, Swinging, and the Fear of Loss in Poker” in which he shares some research regarding the way losing can hurt more than winning can feel good.

According to findings of the economist Robert cites in the article, the “loss aversion” ratio for most people is “in the range of 1.5 to 2.5.” In other words, for many it is somewhere either above or below being twice as painful to lose than it is pleasurable to win.

It was early in the NFL season last year I shared a hastily-created “pleasure-pain index” for Pigskin Pick’em, something I was reminded of by Robert’s article as well as by some of the results from yesterday. The index goes as follows:

  • most pain: making non-consensus choice (usually an underdog), being wrong
  • least pain: making consensus choice (usually a favorite), being wrong
  • least pleasure: making consensus choice (usually a favorite), being right
  • most pleasure: making non-consensus choice (usually an underdog), being right
  • After three weeks of following a relatively conservative path with my picks, I broke out of that yesterday somewhat by choosing a few unpopular dogs such as Jacksonville (who won) and the LOLJets (who lost). Those picks ended up evening out for the most part, although one game in particular -- San Diego’s miserable give-away of its game versus New Orleans -- got me thinking the index isn’t accounting for another factor significantly affecting the pleasure-pain measurement.

    I picked San Diego over Indianapolis in Week 3, a game in which the Chargers had a 22-20 lead and a 2nd-and-3 at midfield with less than three minutes left, but couldn’t make a first down and lost the lead on a long TD.

    The Chargers then got the ball back down four and promptly fumbled, then after getting it back one last time with almost no time left fumbled again. Indy won 26-22, with San Diego having gone from an 80.6% “win probability” (as ESPN is now measuring) with two minutes left to losing.

    Despite the pain caused by that failed pick, I chose San Diego again yesterday in their home game against New Orleans, and with just under seven minutes left the Chargers were up 34-21 with possession of the football. Win probability? 98.5%. But they fumbled, and the Saints got a quick TD. Then they fumbled again, New Orleans got seven more, and the Chargers lost 35-34.

    I didn’t actually see either game, save the last desperate minute yesterday when San Diego got the ball back one last time and lost 12 yards, then threw a pick. Reading box scores and play-by-play rundowns of the ends of these two games, the fumbles seem almost purposeful -- the surest way to lose the games. Bill Barnwell of ESPN even tweeted yesterday how San Diego was “trying so hard to lose this game,” and while I don’t actually think they were, it’s uncanny how efficiently they managed to let slip away an all-but-certain victory.

    I’m realizing the pain is heightened when being on the wrong side of these games, and is much greater than the pleasure of winning them, in my experience. I’m referring to games in which as a person trying to predict winners the game concludes in such a way that you cannot help but view yourself as being either “lucky” or “unlucky” when choosing either side -- you know, games decided by unlikely late turnovers, odd or incorrect calls by referees, missed field goals, and the like.

    I certainly like winning such games, but when that happens I can’t say I feel as though I’ve “earned” the check mark like I do when teams demonstrate less equivocally that I’ve chosen the right side (such as when I picked the Steelers last night and they crushed Kansas City 43-14). Meanwhile losing them feels especially bad, and even today I keep looking back and thinking how “undeserving” I am to have been rudely delivered that red “X” in the Chargers-Saints game.

    Each of the four categories above, then, could be split into four more subcategories -- the “lucky” win, the “non-lucky” win, the “non-lucky” loss, and the “unlucky” loss -- with the relative pain-pleasure calibrated for each outcome. Hmm... this is getting complicated. I may have to create a table or graph to represent it all.

    Silly stuff, I know. But the curious part of it is how what I’m describing is precisely the opposite of what happens (to me) in poker, where losing because of bad luck doesn’t hurt much at all, but losing because of my own poor decisions hurts significantly. Similarly, winning by getting lucky doesn’t bring as much pleasure as winning because of smart, skillful play.

    Will keep monitoring it all. And we’ll see if I can ever bring myself to picking the Chargers again -- or perhaps if I can start picking against the Panthers -- and what sort of pain and/or pleasure those picks will produce.

    Image: “fumble!” (adapted), Paul L Dineen. CC BY 2.0.

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