Thursday, March 6, 2014

#SSAC14 Betting Panel: Chad Millman


As you may have heard, the 2014 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference was in Boston this past weekend, and one of the panels focused on sports betting. Throughout the week, I'm going to be taking a look at what each of the four panelists had to say, including transcripts, related tweets, my own commentary, and (if they're eventually free) YouTube clips.

Chad Millman (Twitter, SSAC profile, ESPN Insider archive) is the Editor-in-Chief of
ESPN the Magazine, and often covers betting-related topics for both The Magazine and ESPN Insider. Prior to his ESPN gig, his most notable gambling-related credential appears to be having written this book.

Anything after a bolded name is directly transcribed from the panel itself, anything in italics is me.

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David Frohardt-Lane (known NFL #shrap): No matter how big of a deal the Conference Championship is, you're going to get up for the Super Bowl.

Chad Millman: Well, you got two weeks [...]



Millman: [...] but also, what made the Super Bowl so difficult to handicap, and to make a line for, was the public perception. And the perception was that the 49ers were becoming better and better as a team, and that they were really a team that a lot of people were thinking was probably the Super Bowl favorite, the team to represent the NFC. So when the Seahawks beat them, and they didn't beat then soundly, they potentially beat them, they did beat them, because of what a lot of people saw as sort of a lucky play, where they had otherwise been dominated the rest of the game, and possibly could have lost the game on a last second touchdown. Then you've got the Patriots, who had been playing great, and then the Broncos beat the Patriots, and you've got this, sort of, vortex of all these public teams, and people parsing the way each team won the game, so that's why even though the right play was to open the Seahawks as two-point favorites, you had all this public money rushing in, and don't forget, you're in Vegas for Championship weekend, and that is as big a weekend, in terms of handle, as anything that is leading up to the Super Bowl now, and so you've got people rushing out of town who had just seen the Broncos destroy the Patriots, who everyone thought was playing as well as anybody could be playing because the week before LeGarrette Blount had run for god knows how many yards, and you've got the Seahawks barely beating the 49ers, and everyone thinking they barely escaped. So you've got this rush of money that comes in. That's what makes the Super Bowl so difficult, that's where the analytics, on a game like that, from the oddsmaker perspective, go out the window. Now, it turns out, everybody who was handicapping from an analytical perspective...most people were on the Seahawks. So they were thrilled, because most people I spoke to were on the Seahawks, and would have played the Seahawks at -2, except they got lucky and the public money moved the game toward the Broncos, and so that's why the Super Bowl always ends up being the most difficult game to calculate from an analytical perspective, because the public has so much influence on that particular line.

Frohardt-Lane: I think the Super Bowl really stands out. I mean normally, if you disagree with the market by four points, you're wrong, is basically what it comes down to. But I do feel like the Super Bowl is different, like you can actually look at that line and say that line was wrong by four or five points. I attribute that to all the public money that comes in on the Super Bowl.

Word count: Millman 397, Frohardt-Lane 73.

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Millman: I think the value in betting isn't in finding that unknowable stat, it's in the offerings. What is the next thing...in-game wagering. First 5 innings of betting on baseball. What are those things where the market hasn't quite caught up to what the professionals are doing yet, is where professionals are finding the most advantage. I've spoken to so many professional gamblers who...they're doing as much playing in-game as they are doing pregame.
Jeff Ma (moderator): Are they able to get a large amount of money down on in-game and First 5?

Millman: Some guys are. Depends on how many bets you're laying.
Millman: But the way these things are sliced, you've got all this data you are thinking about, and you've got all this research you've done as a professional gambler over the course of a week, or over the course of a season. And the way NFL lines specifically come out, it's so difficult because they're moving so quickly, and they become pretty sharp, you know, pretty quickly, and so your opportunity to really beat the market is when the game is happening [...]

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Millman: I do think that the examination of the value of player injuries -- I'm thinking more about the NFL than I am about the NBA -- but that...

Ma: Are you going to tout your Millman rankings right now?

Millman: I wasn't going to, but thanks for bringing it up. So, for the past couple years we've done this thing on the blog that I do called the Millman rankings, because I'm a very humble guy. It's based on a metric we created called Point Spread Value Above Replacement. And what it does is it measures the value of a player, against the point spread, compared to what the spread would be if his replacement was playing. It's got a bunch of complicated stats in there because, you know, we're very, very smart.

Ma: What are the complicated stats?

Millman: They're not complicated stats. But what we're doing is we're going back and judging how well teams performed without those players, what the stats of those players who replaced them were, and then just sort of doing formulaic complications...

Ma: How can you do that with a guy like Tom Brady?

Millman: It's sort of a judgment call.

Ma: So there's not a lot of analytics that go into it, it's kind of very subjective?

Millman: Jeff, don't pull back the curtain on this thing, okay?

Frohardt-Lane: I don't know if this is what Chad's doing, but you could look over history of all kind of quarterbacks, and see how much does the dropoff from various levels of quarterback hurt the team, and then you ask yourself, okay, where does Tom Brady fall on this spectrum of quarterbacks.

Millman: The point is that you get a specific number on this, and if you are aware that the injury has happened, you can take advantage of that before the market adjusts, and get a very good sense of what the value is in the point spread, if bookmakers have adjusted it too much, have they not adjusted it enough, and I think that's often why [...]

Millman: You know, I talk to so many professional gamblers who are watching preseason games, deep into the fourth quarter, because they want to know, how good is the second- or third-string guard for the Niners, in case the first-string guard gets injured, because that's a lot of the places where you're going to find value, if that guy is out, and bookmakers don't necessarily adjust because, you know, the first-string guard for the San Francisco 49ers isn't playing.

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Ma: What are some other things, Chad, that you see in the future, where value might come, and what are the opportunities there?

Millman: [strokes chin and stares at the ceiling for 11 seconds]

Ma: We'll get back to you.

Millman: Well, I was going to say, does it have to be a particular sport, or any sport?

Ma: Any sport.

Millman: You know, I think a lot about the NFL, and to me...

Ma: The NFL seems like the worst place.

Millman: It's the worst place to bet, but it's what everyone bets.

Ma: Right, but why would that be the place where there's an opportunity?

Millman: Well...can I finish?


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