Monday, June 04, 2007


In baseball, the term leverage is used to quantify the importance of the next event in determining the outcome of that game. Events in close games have higher leverage than those in blowouts, and during a close game, events near the end of the game have higher leverage than those earlier in the game, since there is less time to recover. (You can also factor in how much a particular outcome will change the probability of winning, instead of just considering the state prior to the at-bat; google "Win Probability Added" for more detail.) One application of this is that teams should use their best relievers during the higher leverage moments where possible. Now, there is some debate as to what extent clutch hitting exists (i.e., the ability to perform better during high leverage situations), but

There are two applications to ultimate that I can think of (well, three if you count using fire in rocham). One is that I strongly prefer playing high leverage points, if such points are available that day. I think I realize that I'm not going to be able to play every point at any high level of output, so I'd rather those points be important to the outcome of the game. Thus, points when we're winning 5-2, or whole games where the outcome isn't in doubt, I don't have much desire to participate in. (For summer league or pickup where I don't much care about the outcome, even when it's in doubt, this doesn't factor in except maybe at double game point if I'm in or if there is someone on the other team I want to have lose.)

The other is in foul calls and contests. There are four calls I've been involved in these past two tournaments that come to mind. I held my ground on the two highest leverage calls and gave up on the other two (even though on one of those I was at least 100% in the right; in fairness, though, not only was this one not at an important part in the game, but it also didn't make a lot of difference in the expectation that we would score the point). I don't engage in gamesmanship in stuff like this, so it wasn't a matter of giving up a call now expecting to get one or more back later. Rather, I don't want to be a guy who is involved in a lot of calls or a guy who makes bad calls. I guess I'm willing to risk the latter a little bit in some circumstances because I also don't want to be a guy who helps his team lose by not making a (good) call.

I don't doubt that in each case, I was probably correct (and not just loophole/ticky tack correct, but spirit of the rule correct), although I'm not sure what an Observer would have ruled on them (or even what I as an Observer would have ruled).

Anyway, what really triggered this trip down angst lane was seeing a comment on the UPA Strategic Planning blog (and remembering similar comments elsewhere) about how unspirited it is to pull out calls when the game is on the line. The paradox is that the commenter would think it more unspirited to make those earlier calls, too, even though that would make the amount of rule-breaking required to call a foul more consistent. (I also tend to factor in how respectfully the other player plays and how he makes the call; given a certain level of how sure I am about a call, I find myself more likely to contest a call if the other player is belligerent about it.)

I can think of examples from other sports that back up this point of view. In pro football, the coach will throw the challenge flag only if either he's absolutely certain or if the difference in the outcome is huge (score/no score or possession). Years ago in pro hockey, many players had sticks with illegal curvature on the blade, but they were only challenged on it in the last minutes of tight games. And in the George Brett pine tar incident, the Yankees knew about it for a long time but waited until Brett had hit a 3 run homer to ask for a measurement.

For the record, the calls (the first two were detailed in the WMO post):
1. 12-11 us, game to 13, I'm chasing a hammer on defense, as I'm about to jump, the receiver shifts his position and jumps back toward me. The disc goes over his head, but my momentum carries me into him. I ask him twice if he's sure he doesn't want to take the call back, then don't contest.
2. 12-12, game to 13 (next point), 30 yard pass in the end zone for the game winner, I jump up and make the block, then have some (incidental?) contact on the receiver's body (nothing on the arm). I am more certain that an Observer would rule in my favor than I am that I did not commit a foul. I send it back without trying to convince the receiver to retract his call.
3. 0-1, we receive the pull, quick swing, defense is still not down yet, I cut (pretty much laterally) before I get to where the D is and catch the second pass (this is generally what I do as the Man (3rd person in the play, first downfield cutter) on a low pull, take the free yards rather than actually having to cut and possibly gain more). Pick is called. I pace off 6 steps to my man who called the pick and explain the 3m rule. I add that I was never within 5 yards of the spot where he was standing. Argument ensues. Dumbfounded and angry, I sent the disc back.
4. 13-12 us, game to 15, they throw a long pass. I am looking back at the disc as I run downfield. I feel there is an excellent chance (more than 50/50) that I will cause this pass to be incomplete. About 30 yards from where the disc ends up, while the disc is still high in the air and upfield (toward the thrower) from us, I run into the receiver, who has stopped so as to have me run into him. There is no possible way that he has simply misread the disc. I raise my arm immediately and stop running. He catches it in the end zone. I state "didn't play the disc! Sending it back!" I send it back. He doesn't argue much, but whether that is because he knows I'm right or if he just thinks it won't make a difference, I don't know. Of course I am aware that an offensive foul in this circumstance is a turnover, but I wouldn't want a turnover in that circumstance. I made a similar call in the game to go in 1986 Regionals.


Paul P said...

Regarding #4: Watching the play from the sideline and having had a conversation with one of his teammates earlier in the day, I think there is an excellent chance the player simply misread the disc. My understanding was that despite being on a masters team, he has only been playing for a short time. It was a good call, but it didn't seem intentional.

I believe he is new to the game because I didn't hear him make or complain about a call all weekend.

Paul P
DC Funk

Handy said...

Hey Jim,
I think that you're right in your assessment of how it is somewhat backwards how ultimate perceives calls in certain situations. What your examples speak to however is what I think is one of the biggest problems in ultimate, namely: at even the highest level not everyone takes the time to learn the rules. You would think if you were going to train, play pickup, play summer league and then go into the series you would know the rules, but it is SO often that this is not true (this is all the figurative "you" I realize the actual "you" knows the rules).

It's a little more important than numbers on shorts.


Flo said...

I know this is not a rules blog, but since your comments always carry a lot of weight in the community, I want to comment on scenario 4.

The only place this may be a foul is

Blocking Fouls:

1. When the disc is in the air a player may not move in a manner solely to prevent an opponent from taking an unoccupied path to the disc and any resulting non-incidental contact is a foul on the blocking player which is treated like a receiving foul (XVI.H.3.b).
2. A player may not take a position that is unavoidable by a moving opponent when time, distance, and line of sight are considered. Non-incidental contact resulting from taking such a position is a foul on the blocking player.

If I understand you correctly, your opponent just stopped, and did not actively step in your way. So 1 does not apply: there is no need for him to play the disc, since the path was not unoccupied before (so your claim "didn't play the disc" didn't matter).
Your only reason to call a foul in this situation would be 2---if he stopped in a way that you could not avoid him.

If, on the other hand, your opponent stepped in your way, blocking your previously unoccupied path to the disc, it is important if this was the only purpose of his move ("solely"). Alas, as you say, he ended up catching the disc, so most likely he blocked you to prevent you from the d AND to catch the disc himself (not "solely"). He was playing the disc after all, and he is not required to go to the disc on the most direct route.
So, again, this is only a foul if he moved in a manner violating 2 (getting in front of you in a way that you can't avoid him).


Paul P said...

Flo: As I saw it, Jim was clearly making the call under XVI.H.c.2. Both players were running down the disc, with Jim a couple of steps directly behind the offensive player. The offensive player stopped suddenly - it looked like he was thinking about going up for it - and Jim, still looking up at the disc, ran squarely into his back as he was reading the disc correctly. The offensive player didn't really have a chance for it going up. (Though I don't think he knew that when he stopped.)

It could be argued that it wasn't his intent to block the defense as he was about to attempt a jump, making it a foul on Jim, but I don't believe a leap for the disc would have been successful. The premature stop directly in Jim's path definitely changed the play. In the end, the offensive player was able to run down the disc, but if Jim had been able to run around him when he stopped it would have been a D, no question. If he hadn't stopped, Jim was in a good postion to go up and D it before the catch.

Again, watching from the sidelines, it struck me as a legitimate call. The type of play the rule was written for. There was a sideline full of masters fully prepared to mercilessly heckle any sketchy calls and no one really questioned this one.

Paul P

parinella said...

Everyone: I'm happy to discuss the nuances of the call in order to figure out what the right call should be. Based on history, I ought to face this call again in 2028 and would like to get it right for certain next time.

If I thought that it was just a misread, I would not have made the call (or would have retracted it). The disc was about 20 feet (not sure exactly, but nowhere near the height at which anyone could catch it) high at the time, 10 yards to the side, and heading fast downfield (or at least that's how I remember it now; maybe it was much closer when it happened, or perhaps it actually grazed our heads), so I felt that it was impossible that he was about ready to attempt a catch. The fact that I was looking back at the disc means that I was certain that it was easily within range, or else I would have been running at full speed with my head straight downfield (or, just as likely, would have been walking hoping it wasn't caught).

Flo, I never saw him, so I don't know exactly how he moved, but I am certain (well, was certain) that he moved (including stopping) in such a fashion solely to guarantee contact. Is he allowed to see where I'm going, take one step to the side, then stop and wait for me to run into him as I look back at the disc? What's your official or unofficial opinion on how long someone is allowed to keep his eye on the frisbee instead of in the direction he's running? Obviously you can't just run around full speed and close your eyes. Normally in the second or two prior to making a play, I will glance around quickly to see other people, the line, the endzone. Again, that I wasn't doing it implies that there was not an imminent play.

My primary reason for calling it was "moving solely to prevent", although "line of sight" was somewhere in the back of my head, probably coming to the front a few seconds after making the call. I would have brought "line of sight" up probably had there been an earnest discussion of it, but I just (somewhat obstinately, I guess) sent it back.

degs said...

Jim wrote:
I can think of examples from other sports that back up this point of view. In pro football, the coach will throw the challenge flag only if either he's absolutely certain or if the difference in the outcome is huge (score/no score or possession).

Very interesting. I read an article by Michael Lewis (Moneyball author) in ESPN a few months back about how football coaches actually don't always have the game in mind. If they go for the field goal on 4th & Goal or throw a challenge on a close play, there are other factors at work. Specifically, fan (and owner) impression of the coach making the "right" moves. Sure, some Berkeley professor says that coaches should go for the TD, but that one time it doesn't work may very well get you fired.

A bit of a tangent, sorry. Might explore this one back home. Couldn't find the ESPN article (requires Insider subscription) but I found a blog posting about it. Interesting stuff. Leverage certainly factors into it.

Jim Biancolo said...

Regarding #2, definitely not a foul. In fact, with the 11th defining incidental contact as "contact between opposing players that does not affect continued play" isn't "but I got the disc first" now a valid argument (barring dangerous plays)?

Flo said...

just wrote a long post, and it didn't appear...

in short (semi-official, remembering the conversations at the SRC meeting):
blocking is not forbidden under 1 as long this is not all that you are doing (interpretation: only actions count which may have an influence on the game).

under 2, it is important if it is reasonably possible to avoid you for your opponent. This includes the fairly soft concept of line of sight. So you can't step in someones way who looks the other way.

But: running around without looking where you are going quickly becomes dangerous play, overriding the blocking foul. The line here is not clear (and it can not be).
A quick glance over your shoulder when you reasonably expect that you won't run into someone (your situation?) should not be considered dangerous.
Looking back at a disc for 10 or more steps when there are other players down field somewhere close is dangerous.
Anything in between? Judgement call.

When you are chasing someone, try running slightly sideways from him. This way, when he stops (more likely) you won't run into him. Only when he steps to your side and stops (less likely) you hit him. So this way, the judgement call will more likely be "not dangerous".


parinella said...

Degs, good point. Some coaches display a form of risk aversion in that they're afraid to go against the book even if they think they would be making the right decision. Unconfident ultimate players (unconfident either because of their own skills or because their place in the lineup in not secure) may also experience this, choosing the safer play over a better risk/reward option which, if incomplete, would lead to their benching.

JimB, on #2, the lingering question in my mind was whether the contact was incidental or whether it was a necessary byproduct of the path I took. It wasn't just a light tap, but neither was it anywhere close to reckless endangerment. I have always felt (and hoped that the rules backed me up) that if the only possible way to get the disc means that there will be significant contact, then it's not "incidental" even if it occurs after the disc is hit.

I had a vaguely similar play to #2 this weekend also, although I was on O. Long pass, a little floaty but with an edge, shorter defender who had inside position but I was probably closer to the spot the disc was coming down. I went up, caught it cleanly, he kinda went up but didn't have a lot of room to go. I definitely didn't go over his back, but it's possible I invaded his vertical space. He laughed it off, though.

Jim Biancolo said...

Good point, somewhere along the continuum from "incidental" to "dangerous" lies "significant." It's a little subjective corner of the rules, I suppose.

Flo said...

on #2, the rules back you up as you wish...

Reckless disregard for the safety of fellow players or other dangerously aggressive behavior (such as significantly colliding into a stationary opponent), regardless of whether or when the disc arrives or when contact occurs is considered dangerous play and is treated as a foul. This rule is not superseded by any other rule.

Making a play that necessarily leads into a significant collision is considered dangerously aggressive behaviour---it is very similar to the example given for it.
So, once you are in the "significant" territory (at least as far as collisions go), this rule applies. If there is significant contact which is not a collision, it is again a judgement call if this was dangerous (karate chopping someones arm probably is, moderately hitting someones butt with a hand probably isn't), and this line will vary depending on who is playing.

parinella said...

Flo, just to be clear, none of the examples I used had reckless behavior other than the arguments. It was signficant (not incidental) but not significant (dangerous). If the only way you can get to a disc absolutely requires you to hit the guy (but not completely take him out), is that a foul?

Flo said...

moving in a way that causes a significant collision with someone is by definition dangerously aggressive behaviour, no matter if this collision is dangerous or not, and thus treated as a foul.
So, at least as far as collisions go, it's pretty clear "significant = dangerous".

well, of cause, no rule without an exception. if two players collide on the intersection of two previously unoccupied paths, this is treated as incidental contact (as far this is all they are doing and there is no other dangerous behaviour).

If you are talking about significant contact which is not a collision, you get into judgement call area again if this is dangerous or not.


Flo said...

Oh yeah,
for more discussions on this.
On April 18th, Peri posted pretty much what we ended up as consensus in the SRC.

Anonymous said...

Minor point - There is no debate about whether "clutch hitting" exists. Surely it does - some hits are more important than others. The question is whether "clutch HITTERS" exist. In other words, could we a priori identify players who are more likely to have success in "clutch" situations (however we define those situations, again a priori). And the evidence seems to suggest that no, there are no clutch hitters. Not ever Jeter.

parinella said...

Minor minor point: actually, they do think that clutch hitters exist, just that they can't identify them based on the numbers, at least with any confidence.