Integrality of the game

I started using the Yahoo! Sports mobile site a few days ago to keep track of scores and standings. I’ve been using SportsTap for ages, but its server connection has been unreliable lately, so I thought I’d try something else. Overall, Y! SPORTS1 is a snappy, easy-to-navigate mobile web app with a nice layout. But it has one inexcusable flaw.

Here’s a screenshot of the AL standings I took yesterday.

AL standings in Y! Sports

If you’ve been looking at baseball standings for any length of time, something might strike you as funny about this. Why are all the teams a whole number of games back? It can happen, of course, but it is unusual, especially when teams haven’t played the same number of games.

And if you look at just the Yankees and the Red Sox you’ll see that New York has played an even number of games and Boston an odd number. There’s no way Boston can be 6 games behind. In fact Boston is 6½ games back. Yahoo is rounding.

Now, I haven’t been a big baseball fan since I was a kid, and it’s only the residual love I had for the sport back then that gets me interested in the game as the playoffs approach. The games are too long and too poorly played for me to endure a regular season game.

Because I watch so little baseball, I’m often surprised by what I see—and never pleasantly. For example, I remember the first time I saw Nomar Garciaparra at the plate several years ago. He did that thing where he stepped out the box after every pitch and adjusted and readjusted and readjusted his batting gloves. After every pitch! Time froze when he was at bat, and not because of any suspense. Because the announcers didn’t say anything about this bizarre and stupid behavior, I realized that it had somehow been become normal to do shit like that. It wasn’t like Ernie Banks wiggling his fingers or Joe Morgan flapping his back elbow—those were done in the box and didn’t slow down the game. I couldn’t help but think that if Garciaparra had ever faced Bob Gibson, he’d be walking around with a baseball permanently implanted in his left ear.

And don’t get me started on the Brewers’ jump to the National League.

So anyway, baseball has turned itself into the dullest sport imaginable, and I can only stand to watch it when it’s played at the very highest level. But it doesn’t deserve to have one of its fundamental and traditional statistics rounded off. Is there no one at Yahoo who knows how to insert a ½? Did some web design guru decide that the team names wouldn’t have enough room to “breathe” if the GB column was made wide enough to accommodate an extra “.5”? Or does Yahoo simply not have anyone on staff who understands that 6 games back isn’t the same as 6½ games back?

What if a race is tighter? Proper rounding—which, to its credit, Yahoo adheres to—rounds halves to the nearest even integer. If Team A is 85-50 and Team B is 84-50, will Yahoo really show Team B as 0 games behind? Sacrilege!

Update 9/23/11
Upon further review, Yahoo doesn’t round to the nearest even integer, it just rounds down. Truncates for you programer types.

For the record, and because math nerdery is a significant part of this blog’s brief, here’s the formal equation for calculating the number of games Team B is behind Team A:

[GB = \frac{(W_A - L_A) - (W_B - L_B)}{2}]

which is equivalent to

[GB = \frac{(W_A - W_B) + (L_B - L_A)}{2}]

or simply

[GB = \frac{W_A - W_B - L_A + L_B}{2}]

where [W_X] and [L_X] are the wins and losses of Team X. If GB is negative, then Team A is behind Team B. It’s the division by two that opens up the possibility for half-games back. Why is the division done? Because without it a single game between Teams A and B would change the standings by two games, and that just seems wrong.

Maybe Yahoo will see the error of its ways and stop rounding. Like the good Cub fan I was as a boy, I’ll stay optimistic and wait ‘til next year.


  1. Yeah, that’s the official name of the site. ALL CAPS. And right after an exclamation point, too.