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It’s Always Different This Time – Sports Edition

Although I live in Southern California I will always be a Washington sports fan. I didn’t forget where I came from after all. But even though I reside in the sunny skies of SoCal I am tormented all year by the storms that accompany every Washington sports team. This is especially true of the Nationals and Capitals who have dominated regular season play in recent years and have been colossally consistent choke artists in the playoffs.

Anyhow, the Capitals are about to embark on a second round playoff series against the Shitsburgh Clownfaces and all I am reading about is how the Capitals do this or that in the playoffs. For instance, here’s an ESPN article citing the poor performance of the Caps in the playoffs:

“Entering this season, the Capitals franchise has had 26 playoff appearances. In 10 of those years, they’ve been eliminated after holding a two-game series lead. Elias research shows that is the most series losses after holding a two-game lead in NHL history.

And when the Capitals have led 3-1 it’s been a nightmare. They’ve held a 3-1 lead in 12 series, with five of them being pushed to seven games. Washington has lost all five Game 7s it has played after the Capitals took a 3-1 series lead.”

Somebody call the nerd police because this is a statistical crime scene. These are totally irrelevant numbers! A professional sports team is a different team every single year. The Washington Capitals from 1987 are an entirely different team from the team in 2017. Heck, I don’t even know how many of the 1987 players are still alive! But we see this sort of data abuse all the time in sports and financial markets. People are constantly comparing past environments to present environments without recognizing that all the ingredients comprising the current environment are unique. The US stock market in 2017 looks nothing like the US stock market in 1987. It is a totally different animal in a totally different environment. So, the past might rhyme, but it doesn’t repeat.

The message is simple. When it comes to past data you have to be super careful about how you apply that to current environments. When we study things like financial data or sports data we aren’t doing controlled experiments in a vacuum. It’s always different this time and so any analysis making future projections has to account for the fact that the current environment is its own unique set of circumstances.

That said, the Capitals will probably choke away a 3-1 lead. FML.