Fantasy Fights

Intelligent, unique MMA analysis

Making Predictions: Pick SILVA or Pick the Betting Favorite?

If you’re a fan of statistical analysis of sports, or have even a passing interest, I would highly recommend checking out Tom Tango’s blog. He’s mostly a baseball guy, but also comments on other sports, and does so with a statistically-minded viewpoint. More than anything, I like his ability to simplify concepts, and explain the theory behind why statistics are effective at making an argument (or ineffective). With Tango, you don’t get lengthy lectures about statistical methods with just a paragraph at the end explaining what it all means. I’ve found that when he has something to say, it’s usually with a very clear, simple approach that is easy to understand and apply.

With that said, this post in particular about the voting for the NL Cy Young Award caught my interest. This was because of his anecdote in the middle of the post:

This reminds me when I did that football pool when I was in college, where you rank winners from 14 to 1, and you get points based on where you rank them. While my friends sweated every week to figure out the order, spending up to an hour, I simply went with Vegas and called it a day. I went into the last week in 2nd place out of 22.

Tango explains that he, as an individual, had no knowledge to add above and beyond that of the collective wisdom, which goes into determining the point spreads and betting lines for a particular game.

It reminded me of my work with SILVA, and trying to predict who would win particular fights. Those who have been reading my blog know that every time I write a post summarizing SILVA’s predictions for a particular UFC event, I include a feature called “the big underdog pick of the week.” Essentially, I mention which predictions SILVA makes that are also betting underdogs. If you’ve been paying close attention, you probably realize that SILVA’s track record making such picks is extremely poor.

At UFC 139, for example, SILVA made two underdog picks: Rafael dos Anjos over Gleison Tibau and Brian Bowles over Urijah Faber. The dos Anjos pick is one I can live with – he was a narrow underdog and SILVA only favored him by a very slight margin. The Bowles pick, on the other hand, really ended up being a disaster, as Urijah Faber was not only a strong favorite, he ended up beating Bowles in very decisive fashion. When SILVA picked Bowles to win by a 31-point gap, I went into the data to try to prove that SILVA was making a bad pick. As it turns out, Bowles’s recent record was just plain stronger, and his and Faber’s data on Fight Metric was very comparable. I couldn’t prove SILVA wrong, so I went with Bowles. As it turns out, Faber was the winner and it wasn’t close. It didn’t matter what data I used… I wasn’t going to have a better idea than the “collective wisdom” about who the winner would be.

Overall, SILVA 1.1 is 1-4 when it predicts an underdog to win. The one triumph was actually Junior dos Santos over Cain Velasquez, but SILVA missed on Rob Broughton at UFC 138, Pablo Garza at UFC on Fox, and Brian Bowles and Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 139. It’s an extremely small sample of fights, so there’s not enough here to make any conclusions, but the question to be asked is: is it even worth looking at SILVA to predict who will win when there are betting lines available to look at?

I think SILVA still has value because of the ability to look at a list of fighters in a specific weight class. Sure, we may know that Chris Weidman is a 4-1 favorite against Tom Lawlor, but what would the betting lines be if Weidman was to fight somebody like Chael Sonnen? SILVA may not be as accurate as the betting lines at making predictions, but it still provides a decent estimate (most of the time), and provides for the ability to look at the hierarchy of where Weidman rates compared to his peers (he rated 15th at middleweight before beating Lawlor; I have yet to update the SILVA scores following UFC 139).

As for making predictions, I can’t recommend SILVA over simply looking at the betting lines for a fight. SILVA’s track record just is not strong enough to do so.


8 responses to “Making Predictions: Pick SILVA or Pick the Betting Favorite?

  1. BlackSwan November 23, 2011 at 10:52 am

    Great post. I hope you enjoyed the last UFC. I think it was one of the best overall cards of the year. I have yet to attend a live event but I can only imagine the feeling. I want to thank you for making this blog and working to improve SILVA. I use this website often as a comparison tool because of the quality of the analysis.

    I understand the limited amount of variables openly available for MMA in general as an emerging sport. I like how you complement with Fight Metrics in some post. Oddmakers seem to have a steady 65-70% overall pick rate in average. Have you experimented incorporating professional odds in the formula for picks. For instance, using the opening odds vs the upswing/downswing occurring when the public bets. You can use the overall mean on from the 10 betting sites. When a fighter is around -300 or more, the weight could be higher on the SILVA score. While a near even, slight favorite (between -100 to +120) could have a lower weight in the formula. I find SILVA very useful in picking new comers and prelim card fighters.

    I sincerely hope you pursue this project. Best of regards !

    • David Williams November 26, 2011 at 11:05 pm

      Thanks a bunch, it’s always encouraging to receive feedback like this. I’m the kind of person who needs some encouragement from time to time.

      Part of the personal challenge in using SILVA is restricting myself to static, objective data that can be applied to (almost) any MMA fighter I want. This limitation essentially mandates that I use only wins and losses in the formula. BestFightOdds is a wonderful resource, but betting lines change constantly, and I want a fighter’s SILVA score to be the same today as it is tomorrow (unless the fighter competed in that day). This is particularly true because I am NOT a programmer and have to input this data manually. I hope to eventually change this.

      With that said, I’m thrilled that you find SILVA useful, and that motivates me to keep going. I do have more ideas about potentially improving it, but updating the SILVA scores is becoming more of a chore each week, and I think it’s a better idea to actually learn SQL and try to build a database myself. I’ll update SILVA manually in the meantime, but that means no systematic improvements for a little while.

  2. Howard Morton November 25, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    I went 10-2 on my ufc 139 picks and 8-2 on my ufc on fox 1 picks. That is 18-4 run over the last 2 ufc events. There is no way a “system” can do better than that. You have to analyze matchups and a computer can’t do that. The human mind is superior to any machine. I am not trying to insult you I am just saying humans are better than computers. @howardmorton on twitter.

    • David Williams November 26, 2011 at 11:16 pm

      Oh, I agree, and I’ve lamented to myself before that there’s no way I can evaluate a specific match. With Brock Lesnar vs. Alistair Overeem (for example), SILVA does not know that Lesnar has suffered from diverticulitis recently and hasn’t fought for over a year, it doesn’t know that Lesnar has shown a very high aversion to being hit, and that Overeem is an exceptionally powerful striker. SILVA currently favors Lesnar (slightly), but I’m inclined to pick Overeem to win.

      With that said, your claimed prediction records (and I include things you’ve said in the past on this website, not just in the above post) beat the betting lines and beat pretty much anybody I’ve seen in the MMA world. I’m not accusing you of anything, but it seems a bit incredible to me. If you don’t mind, you’re more than welcome to put your picks for UFC events in my SILVA predictions post, and we’ll see if you can keep it up.

    • David Williams November 26, 2011 at 11:17 pm

      By the way, I forgot that Baczynski was an underdog – make that 2-4 picking underdogs, not 1-4.

  3. Kalamalahala December 1, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    Good post. I almost always consult SILVA when I make fight predictions. Its not the only resource I use and I don’t always make the same prediction as SILVA does, but I definitely like to consult with the SILVA score and with your analysis, especially when I’m in limbo about something.

    Its been working pretty well so far on Tapology so I’ll keep coming back. Keep up the good work.

    • David Williams December 1, 2011 at 6:57 pm

      Thanks! I happen to think the way you described your usage of SILVA is the best possible way SILVA can be used. It’s not a be-all or end-all, but one tool to have at your disposal in your overall analysis of MMA fights. Thanks for the encouragement!

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