Last week in the Zurich Open the machine had Seung-Yul Noh projected to post a top 15 finish. His odds to win were anywhere from 100-150 to 1, making a bet on him a seemingly lucrative proposition (his estimated odds to win from the short-history of the algorithm were more like 20-1). I had been fairing quite poorly over the prior 3-4 weeks – even with Kuchar accurately projected to win for the RBC Heritage. I didn’t actually place a bet on the Kuch because he was one of the favorites going in and therefore offered relatively unattractive odds. With a lack of data about the actual implied odds of the machine’s projected winners, I wasn’t sure if his win projection represented edge or was simply in-line with the oddsmakers. Since the machine hadn’t accurately projected the winner for the first 6 weeks I was tracking it, the odds of the projected winner actually wining were impossible to calculate without doing some questionable extrapolations from more frequently occurring observations (i.e. odds of being top 10 or 25).
Even now it’s not clear what having picked 1/7 winners actually means – 7 observations is still a terribly low sample size. It’s only clear to me that 1/7 is better than 0/7 winners, all things being equal. It also eliminates, for the short term, one test which would show that the algorithm was bunk; if it had gone 20-30+ tournaments without picking a single winner we could statistically surmise that the picks had almost no value. I imagine that we will need at least 30 tournaments, probably more, to compute with confidence what the implied odds are for these projections – but picking winners never hurts.
Throwing statistical significance out the window for a second, and making the brash assumption that the projections are a more accurate reflection of what’s likely to happen than the numbers put out by the oddsmakers – it wasn’t difficult to recognize that Noh represented value given his 13th projection and the 150-1 odds to win. If you force ranked the golfers by their odds to win last week, Noh would have ranked somewhere outside the top 50. There are plenty of tacit assumptions behind this method for defining value, and they should be explicitly recognized and quantified, something I hope to do over time.
For the short term it’s we can start with the most basic question, the only one I’ve looked into directly – how skewed is the game the odds-makers are offering us? Technically speaking all the odds to win for all the golfers ought to sum to exactly 1 + some amount of juice. To the extent that they sum to less than one the odds are skewed towards the better (not likely), to the extent they sum to more than one the odds are skewed towards the house (check). Based on the wide range of odds I see in various sports books and betting markets online, the ‘sum to 1 + juice’ principle means that, for golf in particular, the calculated juice is quite high. To see just how screwed golf betters are getting on average, I checked this figure for a few sites that offer odds.
For the european outfit betfair.com the odds sum to 1.172 (this is a realtime betting market, so these figures will change leading up to – and during – the event). If you bet every single player in the field $100, you should expect, on average, to win (1/1.172) * $100 or $85 in return. Already that makes golf betting more juice-prone than other sports betting markets, and the explanations for it are simple enough: golf betting has long odds, so ‘the house’ can potentially experience wild fluctuations if someone happens to place a large wager on a long-shot and win. Also, and more realistically to blame for the egregiousness of the odds offered, is that I doubt golf bettors have thought much about this notion… it’s more difficult to add up 150 different fractional than it is to look at a spread number in the NFL and recognize that, given this number of points, the outcome of the game should be a 50-50 coin flip, or look at a money line number of -105. Golf betters pick one possible winner out of 150, it requires more mental gymnastics to consider the implication that, out of that 150, someone has to win.
But this 1.172 figure is by means an indictment of Betfair. By comparison, the not-market-driven Bovada.com’s odds for the Wells Fargo Championship add to an astonishing 1.544… Now that is some seriously insurmountable odds-flogging.
At any rate – Bovada is the place I’ve chosen to test my picks… if I can turn an RIO there then anything should be possible! I ultimately placed a bet for Noh to come in the top 5 at 18-1 odds, not too shabby, but I’m still kicking myself for not having him to win (on Bovada he was probably more like 80-1, but still a handsome reward). This brings me to a broader point about golf-betting, particularly golf-betting to win; even when you think you have edge you will expect to lose in excess of 95% of your bets – and that’s if you’re picking mostly favorites.
I’ve historically focused all of my attention towards the analytics required to accurately predict sports outcomes. I’ve admittedly hitherto payed almost no attention to the ‘mechanics of betting’, and how someone best turns a bankroll + some accurate projections into an ROI. There’s a ton of excellent research out there about what percentage of one’s bankroll is appropriate to wager for an event with given implied and actual odds, for some amount of perceived edge, etc. It’s all very exciting stuff – and as I consume it I’ll be sure to regurgitate some of it here.
Keep in mind that to date, the machine has never been geared to project winners at all, instead focusing on projecting fantasy point production. In future iterations I might switch this focus. The two values (fantasy points and finishing tournament position) are certainly correlated, but fantasy golfers are disproportionally awarded for volatile play – an Eagle (-2 with respect to par for the hole) might be worth +8 fantasy points, while a Double-Bogey (+2 with respect to par for the hole) is only worth, say, -1 or -2 fantasy points. In terms of the players position on the leader board, however, an Eagle is just as helpful as a Double Bogey is damaging – so there is a potential non-trivial reduction in noise possible by just focusing on final tournament place instead of fantasy points.
At any rate, it’s been weeks since I’ve posted anything more than the figures here, and this little diatribe isn’t much of an improvement in terms of blog contents. Just wanted to point out that I’ve not totally checked out – I’m thinking of new ways to leverage/test the machine’s picks in the context of both DFS and sports betting more generally. That being said I am still quite pinched for time – and have opted for earlier production and publishing of the picks over the prior set of notorious comparisons. Perhaps a future iteration will have a betting-centric focus, comparing them to the oddsmakers… we shall see.
Good luck this week for the Wells Fargo Championship… on with the chlorophyll!
Projections for the Wells Fargo Championship:
Some notes on these picks…
Bill Haas is suffering from a wrist sprain he suffered two weeks ago, that caused him to withdraw from the RBC Heritage (he was one of my picks, blast!). The injury was not golf related – he suffered it on a fall down some stairs whilst handling a family emergency between rounds 1 and 2 of that event. That being said – his odds to win are exceptionally high for a golfer of his caliber, betfair.com listing him at 55-1… He played golf on Monday with the likes of Matt Kuchar and Harris English in his own charity event, and I haven’t heard reports as to whether his swing was impacted by the injury. I consider Haas a high-risk high-reward play in both DFS and traditional betting given his inflated odds and the likelihood that people will see a WD for his last outing and stay away. Anecdotally Noh had WD’d from the tournament immediately preceding his win last week – not all withdraws are created equal, and not all of them are a death sentence.
If I had to pick a ‘Noh’ for this coming week it’d be Pat Perez (80-1 on Betfair, 66-1 Bovada) or Cameron Tringale (130-1 on Betfair, 80-1 on Bovada… see what I’m dealing with here?!). Good luck to all – talk to you next week.