Baseball is back.
America’s pastime has returned to the field this week after a four-month delay due to the impact of COVID-19. Bettors responded accordingly too, with ESPN’s David Purdum reporting Draft Kings handled more pre-game action on Thursday’s Yankees/Nationals opener than any other game in their history, with total action even eclipsing last season’s deciding seventh game of the World Series.
Besides the fact games will be played without fans, a variety of rule changes have been introduced, some to facilitate elements of this season unlike any other, some that have been discussed for years and are finally being implemented, even if just as a test.
One of the rule changes aims to reduce the likelihood of games stretching deep into extra innings. A tied game after nine innings will see the hitting team start with a runner on second base in each subsequent inning, increasing the likelihood of a team scoring.
This has introduced a tricky consideration for baseball as recording accurate statistics has long been a priority. This particular rule-change drew quite a bit of attention, because the act of placing a runner on a base without anything else in the game having occurred is unnatural to the game. Major League Baseball has outlined specific procedures for recording this item so it is standardized for proper recordkeeping.
Horse racing has plethora of unique outcomes that can yield confusion in recordkeeping. Here is one.
After a gate incident led to Pin Up Lady being declared a non-starter in a July 1 race at Emerald Downs, the first race of her 2020 campaign, bets were refunded on the horse. No prize money could be awarded. However, Equibase statistics record it as a start, and essentially, a last place finish for the owner, trainer and jockey too. The horse’s lifetime record is marked with a “DNF.”
But how is it possible to not finish a race in which you were not considered to have ever started?
In Pin Up Lady’s first actual start of 2020, which came on July 16, she won at 8-1. While the Daily Racing Form records for the race reflect Pin Up Lady’s non-starter line, they show her as being perfect in 2020 – races in which she actually started.
Ontario-bred legend Pink Lloyd was a perfect six-for-six in 2019…in races where he was an actual starter. Equibase includes a blemish from the Bold Venture Stakes in September, where he was declared a non-starter, as part of his overall record for the year, but the Daily Racing Form overrides it, including only races where Pink Lloyd was deemed a starter.
Is there a correct answer as to the exact way it should be handled? No. But the inconsistency suggests there is a disagreement with the downstream data provider (DRF - top, below) compared to the official provider (Equibase - bottom, below), as reflected below.
Some will want to file this away s problem 7,853 in horse racing.
Without argument, this may seem to be minor in the grand scheme of the sport, but sadly, it is symptomatic of larger issues. Accuracy matters. Attention to detail is important. But if broken windows like these are left unrepaired, what other issues are left unattended?
The timing of North American horse races is in shambles.
One expert suggests to the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation that roughly one-third of all races timed at one North American track are significantly inaccurate, with a few others not far behind. The degree of inaccuracy is such that the accurate time and the reported time differ enough that there would be substantial differences in figures published for the race.
Of course, many of these figures are often billed to customers as value-added products, both by Equibase themselves, their own and other vendors which use the information provided through Equibase. Times, figures and other metrics used to compare horse performance can often serve as the basis, or contributing factors, in horse sales (public and private) and they even feature prominently in stallion advertisements.
The knock-on implications of inaccurate times are plentiful.
Getting little things right might seem both a proverbial “no-brainer,” and also low on the list of problems that require attention. But if racing continues to let confusion reign over minor incidents like whether or not Pin Up Lady’s July 1 race is or is not counted as a start in official records, how can there be confidence that the more substantive issues with inaccurate timing will be solved?
This weekly feature has lamented the sad state of affairs as it relates to racing’s data crisis. Errors are rife, and the price to access this data is still incredibly high. As much as we advocate for “free data,” the quality of the really expensive data that IS available leaves much to be desired.