This is Regressing, a numbers-minded column by our clever friends at the Harvard College Sports Analysis Collective. Over the next few days, they'll be applying rigorous statistical analysis to some of the finest basketball movies in the history of cinema (and also Hoosiers). Today: The offensively minded BASEketball.
BASEketball was released in 1998, and while the film did manage to catch director David Zucker before his career free fall had taken him from the heights of Naked Gun to the depths of Scary Movie 4, it was in all other aspects a movie out of step with its time. Leads Trey Parker and Matt Stone had only recently created South Park. The film's theme of spectacle and selfishness subjugating sport foretold the XFL and three major lockouts, respectively. And my mom didn't let me see it.
Most tragically, no one cared yet to statistically analyze it. The title sport, a combination of baseball (the boring one with the bats and the dirt) and basketball (like SlamBall except without trampolines), provides us with the opportunity to combine the former's robust statistical toolset with the latter's ability to be popular this time of year. Here are the basics: You set up four areas away from the basket — one for singles, one for doubles, one for triples, and one for home runs. If you nail your shot, you reach base and the runners advance accordingly. If you miss, it's an out. Three outs mean the inning's over, and there are nine innings.
The twist is the psych-out: The opposing team can do anything to distract you while you attempt your shot. Examples from the movie include bared asses and the repeated shouting of "Steve Perry!" (one of which is a distracting evocation of a Journey concert; the other is the repeating shouting of "Steve Perry!"). This is analogous to pitching and defense, not that I want to give Brian Wilson any more ideas. If we translate shooting into hitting, we can treat a BASEketball game like a real baseball game. The action is wholly discrete, if also indiscreet. I took a look at the Milwaukee Beers' top three players to see how they performed. Seventy-two on-screen at-bats later, I came to the following conclusions:
• Joe "Coop" Cooper, played by Parker, makes Babe Ruth look like Neifi Perez. He batted .778 and posted an OPS of 2.722, which is higher than the number you'd get if you singled in half your at-bats and doubled in the other half. An offense made up of nine Coops would score about 86.5 runs a game. The announcers make reference to slumps, but there's no evidence from the shots he's taking.
• Coop's psych-out ability is almost equally impressive: he held opponents to just two singles in 15.5 at-bats (I split a shared psych-out between two players), good for a .129 opponent batting average and a Component ERA of .43.
• A team made up of all Coops on offense and defense would thus win games by an average of 86 runs. Based on that run differential, you would expect the team to go 162-0. In fact, they would lose only once in about 179 million games — literally once in a million years.
• Al Michaels is the best actor in the movie. Seriously, watch it.
• Doug "Swish" Remer, Coop's teammate played by Stone, isn't too shabby on offense either. He batted .759 with a 2.461 OPS, and a team of nine Dougs on offense would manage 79.3 runs per game. But his psych-outs pale in comparison to Coop's (scouts agree, look at the video), as he posted a Component ERA of 6.14. An all-Doug team would also go 162-0, but they'd lose once every 9,500 games or so.
• If Coop and Doug played against one another, Coop would win 99.995 percent of the time.
• Squeak, a minor third player, is worth 18 runs a game but has the same 6.14 average as Doug on psych-outs. That means he'd only go 151-11.
• Psych-outs don't appear to be mandatory, as most of the Beers' shots go undefended. No amount of offense would save Coop and Doug from a psych-less defense, as every undefended shot against the Beers went in.
• When you add it all up, the Beers would score 69 runs a game and post an ERA of 1.95. This is good enough for an undefeated season over 99.9 percent of the time. Outside of New York, you'd keep your managerial job.
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The Harvard College Sports Analysis Collective is a student club dedicated to quantitative analysis of sports strategy and business. Follow them on Twitter, @Harvard_Sports. If you have any comments or ideas for future columns, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Video editing by Kate Shapiro.